Report due on malformed sugar beet

An investigation into the cause of this season’s erratic sugar beet crops is expected to report its findings shortly.

With lifting now well under way across eastern England, growers as far apart as Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk have reported fields of malformed or fangy beet. In some fields 30-60% of sugar beet has been affected, while other adjacent crops remain healthy and problem free.

Only a minority of farms are affected. But the situation follows the erratic establishment of some beet crops this spring. Some early-drilled beet failed to emerge. Plants that did make it out of the ground exhibited twisted cotyledons.

As harvest progresses, the extent of problems is becoming clearer. Affected growers have described the impact as serious. One farmer, who asked not to be named, said he faced “significant losses” with roots snapping off as beet were lifted and loaded.

A five-month investigation by the British Beet Research Organisation into the situation is expected to report its findings shortly. It commissioned a series of independent scientific studies in a bid to uncover the cause of the problem.

Interim findings were presented to British Sugar and NFU representatives last month. Those findings have not been seen by Farmers Weekly. But it is understood that the final report will suggest problems were caused by a combination of factors, rather than any single cause.

Overall, harvest is progressing well, said NFU Sugar chairman William Martin. “The weather is with us, with rain in some places to soften hard land and ease lifting. But crops are very variable, with some people happy and others disappointed.”

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