Potential record beet output washed away

Sugar beet and potato growers have struggled in the extreme conditions this season.

Producers in north Norfolk and Lincolnshire have been hardest hit in the beet sector, but while they will suffer through lower yields, they only grow 10-15% of the crop, estimates British Sugar.

Torrential summer rain hit any chance of the record crop that was still on the cards in mid-June, despite some beet getting away slowly in the dry spring, Mike May of Broom’s Barn says. “The excessive rain has tempered that.”

Much of the crop has been in waterlogged soil, which is a stark contrast to the usual summer drought. It has led to leaf drop where anaerobic conditions have developed, particularly on headlands, and where soil structure was poor. “Above average August rain didn’t help recovery.”

The main problem has been nutrient leaching, says Ross Haddow, who has a 9500t contract for Stody Estate’s light sandy

Broom’s barn tips
  • Harvest poor fields first – better ones have more scope to build yield
  • If mediocre crops merit spraying off they are probably worth lifting
  • Check herbicide programmes if min-tilling after cereals
loams at Melton Constable. “Arguably, I’m looking at my worst crop for 15 years. We had a very dry start, but the crop established well. But then we had excessive rain and it just ran out of nitrogen. It’s yellow and just not making any growth.”

Lincolnshire contractor and grower Richard Ivatt is less concerned for his 61ha (150 acres) of beet at Shillakers Farm, Spalding. “But there are some very variable crops around here.”

Elsewhere, particularly in the Bury St Edmunds area, which escaped the worst of the rain, hopes remain high for reasonable results. Indeed BS area manager Richard Osborne anticipates good yields from Essex and Suffolk.

“We were just more fortunate with the weather patterns.”

BS agricultural manager Robin Limb acknowledges that growers around the Wash and in north Norfolk will be disappointed. “But few crops won’t be worth lifting.”

Growers tempted to drop beet after price cuts to grow wheat should think carefully, adds Mr Haddow. He is convinced he should continue with it on his light land. “Wheat prices aren’t guaranteed to stay as they are.”

See more