Sugar output up after 2020’s virus yellows-hit beet crop

Sugar production from Britain’s sugar beet crop is set to rise more than 10% with a smaller drilled crop area offset by a recovery in yields after last season’s virus yellows-hit beet harvest.

Beet processor British Sugar says good progress was made drilling this season’s crop in March due to favourable planting conditions, and it expects sugar output to be above 1m tonnes after only 900,000t last season.

“Sugar production is expected to be just over 1m tonnes with a reduced planting area compensated by more normal yields,” the group said.

See also: Sugar beet drilling racing ahead in near-perfect conditions

Virus yellows

Last season, the sugar beet crop was hit badly by virus yellow disease which is spread by aphids, but prolonged cold weather in February this year has reduced the likelihood of the disease this season.

This cold spell, which controlled aphid numbers, meant a conditional permit for the use of neonicotinoid insecticides as seed dressings was not needed for the crop.

Neonicotinoids, which have been used to control the virus yellows-carrying peach potato aphid (Myzus persicae), are currently banned from use in sugar beet because of concerns they may kill bees and other pollinating insects.

For sugar beet growers, this will be the third season without the use of neonicotinoids in the crop following their withdrawal from use as seed dressings for cereals and oilseed rape.

Crop area down  

British Sugar estimates the sugar beet area will be down 10% this season after the very difficult growing season England’s 3,000-plus growers faced in in 2020, when yields and sugar production fell sharply.

Last season, the crops affected the most by virus yellows were in the Wissington factory area in west Norfolk and the northern part of the Bury St Edmunds factory area. The other two factory areas – around Cantley in east Norfolk and Newark in Nottinghamshire – were less affected.

The crop update came as British Sugar’s parent company, Associated British Foods, announced that its half-year adjusted pre-tax profits fell 50% to £319m for the 24-week period to 27 February.

UK sugar beet harvests

Year  White sugar production Beet yield  Beet area
2019 1.19m tonnes 78t/ha 100,000ha
2020 900,000t Down 25% 103,000ha
2021 Just over 1m tonnes   Down 10% (forecast)
Note: The record crop of 1.45m tonnes of white sugar was harvested in 2014, while the five-year average for sugar beet yields is 75t/ha

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