UK sugar beet crop nearly all sown

Sugar beet drilling is way ahead of last season’s progress which nevertheless produced a record crop.

British Sugar’s Robin Limb estimated that by Tuesday 80% of the expected area had been sown, though rain in the Cantley factory area meant the figure there was nearer 65-70%.

“We’re looking at a settled week, so by the end I think we should be pretty well done,” he said.

“Last year we had only half the crop drilled by the end of March.”

Despite that the average 2008/09 yield was an adjusted 66t/ha – 10% higher than the previous record in 2005, noted Mr Limb.

“We shan’t know the final area until growers’ declarations in early May, but expect it to be very much as last year – about 115,000ha. We hope to be up on that – it certainly won’t be down.”

Against other spring crop options, the guaranteed price of £26/t and an extra £1/t on transport allowances had encouraged growers to take up extra contract tonnage on offer.

Given the way sterling had moved against the euro, for the first time in 15 years the allowances covered the full cost of haulage, he added.

“The economics have certainly moved back in favour of beet and growers have responded.”

This season the whole crop would be grown from primed seed – 60% Advantage and 40% Xbeet, offering potentially good yield benefits.

“We need more than one swallow to make a summer, but this is positive irrespective of what happens from now on.”

NFU sugar board member and former Farmers Weekly Arable Farmer of the Year Robert Law agreed, though BS niggles remained.

With his Hertfordshire area doubled to 100ha (250 acres) and 32ha (70 acres) in Nottinghamshire his sowing was nearly done.

“For us to have 85% in by the end of March is good. We’re off to a flying start.”

The NFU believed that over half the extra contract tonnage on offer from BS had been absorbed.

“We reckon there’s about 380,000t extra – equivalent to about 6400ha – taken up.”

Mr Law who started growing beet in Hertfordshire in 2002 acknowledged that his increased area was against the trend of growers trimming theirs. But it was all virgin beet land with plenty of rotational scope, he explained.

“It really does give us very good yields. Looking at the last five year’s performance compared with other spring crops, sugar beet is still the one for us.”

Most growers welcomed the idea of a fixed price, but all were wary of exceeding their contract tonnages, he explained. “Anything above contract works out at only £12/t.”

Although the haulage allowance had been raised it did not cover the cost of cleaning and loading. “I’m 37 miles from the Bury factory and for haulage it’s about ‘even stevens’, but I’m still out of pocket by about £1.50/t.”

Mr Limb maintained the average ex-farm price for non-contract beet would be £15-16/t.

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