Talk of a record sugar beet crop is premature

Talk of a record sugar beet harvest sparked by one Norfolk grower achieving more than 100t/ha on light land may be premature, as dry conditions limit root bulking in the next few weeks.

Norfolk grower Kevin Hayhoe recorded a yield of 100.3t/ha for an 8ha field of KWS Rosalinda, with a sugar content of 17.5%. “It’s the highest we have ever seen on farm. We usually average about 70t/ha.”

Kit Papworth, director of Norfolk contract farmers L F Papworth, agrees that it has been a fantastic year for growing beet.

“We got good early establishment and crops got away well. We got two fungicides on most of our crops and we were able to irrigate at a dry time,” he says.

So far, around 90ha of a total of 320ha of beet has been lifted. Yields from early-lifted crops are promising, at around 70 to 80t/ha, with 18% sugars.

Mr Papworth says crops are still gaining weight and at this rate a 100t/ha crop is “a very realistic prospect for later-lifted crops”.

But the dry conditions have forced Mr Papworth to stop lifting beet. “We have stopped lifting because it’s very dry and we were running the risk of breaking up tap roots,” he says. “We could do with an inch of rain to improve lifting conditions.”

He is also concerned that the ground may be too hard to drill the following wheat crop.

Dry lifting conditions are also causing concern for Lincolnshire beet contractor Andrew Baxter, of J H Baxter and Sons, Sleaford.

“We have been leaving fields and soil types that are just too tough to penetrate the ground. It’s been a challenging lifting season so far.”

He says yields are variable, but has seen good yields on better quality land, above 70t/ha. Typically, sugar content is high and above 20%.

The Newark factory has been receiving beet with an average adjusted tonnage of 65 to 68t/ha, he adds.

While, Suffolk sugar beet contractor Ken Rush has seen some good crops of nearly 90t/ha, he has also seen some poor ones.

“We have had some shocking crops,” says Mr Rush, whose company harvests around 3,500ha of beet supplying the Bury St Edmunds factory.

The Bury factory is running at an average of 18.5% sugar content, but some growers are seeing crops with sugars at 19% and above, he adds.

However, Mr Baxter doubts that we will see record beet yields in 2011. “Normally, we would expect to see two to three good months of rainfall, especially September, to allow crops to bulk up. But it just hasn’t happened.”

Have you had a record sugar beet crop? Share your thoughts and yields on our sugar beet forum thread

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