Richard Cobbald’s sugar beet struggles in the rain

When I first heard the expression, “this is the wettest drought ever”, I laughed. Now I am not sure whether I should cry or not. While the rain is fantastic for our cereals and oilseed rape, it is causing huge problems with our sugar beet.

We drilled them into wonderful seed-beds and were expecting a great plant count. Then came the rain, even better, then a -3C frost, not so good. Since then the poor beet plants have been up against cold soil temperatures, rain knocking the leaves off, maybe some slug damage and skylarks. Yes, skylarks are causing huge damage by snipping off the young leaves. I can’t believe it, because I thought we had killed all the little blighters with our modern-day farming techniques. Could the RSPB give me some advice as to how to control this feathered problem?

I must admit that, as farmers, we are never happy with the weather, but the rain is very welcome and I hope many of the half-full reservoirs are being allowed to be filled to take the pressure off the vegetable growers. Best pump as much as you can chaps before it is all let out to sea, and for those still on a hosepipe ban, fill up your buckets so you can wash your car.

Another consequence of the drought is that we arable farmers are being reminded of that other disease, apart from rust, called septoria. Wind and leaf splash is going to make this the perfect year to see if the claims made by the SDHI fungicide guys are correct. Only time will tell, but my hunch is it will work, so T2 is going to be plastered with the stuff. Nice to have crops with huge potential, even in a drought.

Now where did I leave my boat?

Richard Cobbald is farm manager for West Wratting Park Estate near Cambridge. The 1,300ha of heavy soils grow wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet and spring barley.

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