Sugar losses soar due to cold weather

Britain’s big freeze is posing problems for sugar beet growers, with farmers reporting losses of 30% in some fields.

Although prolonged cold weather has eased, many crops remain frozen in the ground and impossible to harvest without damage.

Cambridgeshire farmer and NFU sugar board chairman William Martin said it would be weeks before full impact of the weather would be known.

Sugar beet crops had never before been subjected to such a prolonged spell of cold weather, he said.

In previous cold winters, such as 1979 and 1963, crops had been harvested long before the onset of any lengthy freeze.

This meant beet delivered to factories years ago generally coming out of a clamp, rather than out of a frozen field.

Today, however, a longer campaign meant many growers still had beet to harvest.

“I still have about 900 tonnes in another heap, and 15ha to harvest,” Mr Martin wrote in his weblog.

Although leaves were obviously blackened and decaying, the beet itself looked sound enough. But it remained to be seen when it would be harvested.

“The ground is currently still too hard from frost to be practical, and once it thaws it will no doubt be a fearfully sticky mess.”

While sugar factories can accept and process frozen beet, problems occur once beet begins to thaw.

As cell tissue in roots warms up, the sugary juice they contain is converted to a gum-like substance called dextran.

This causes filters in the sugar extraction process to block and only very small amounts are required to cause throughput problems.

Beet that had thawed and deteriorated was unacceptable for processing, said Pamela Chambers, knowledge transfer manager at the Brooms Barn Research Centre.

The situation has prompted British Sugar to issue special advice.

Growers should work with their area managers to help ensure beet were acceptable for processing, said a spokesman.

Growers should deliver clamped beet before harvesting more beet for delivery.

Any frozen beet should be removed from the outer surface of clamps and delivered while it was still sound.

Farmers with beet still to harvest should speak to their haulier and lift to meet available loads.

Growers should not lift and clamp frost damaged roots, said British Sugar.

Freshly harvested beets which show signs of frost damage should be delivered as soon as possible.

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