Challenges still lie ahead for sugar beet growing

Regret that UK sugar beet growers did not yet have access to genetically modified (GM) varieties was strongly expressed as three retiring Broom’s Barn researchers gave presentations last week in memory of station-founder, Raymond Hull.

While US growers appeared to be on the verge of large-scale adoption of GM herbicide-tolerant beet, all the extensive trials highlighting its environmental benefits seemed to have been ignored here, says former Broom’s Barn entomologist Alan Dewar.

Targeted use of glyphosate on tolerant varieties could manage weeds to encourage birds without jeopardising yield, he explained.


Countering criticism that GMHT beet left too few weeds in autumn to provide bird seed, he said just one early treatment could achieve what was required. Blueprints had been produced and published, but still GM crops had been banned. “Was it worth sacrificing this fantastic development for a bit of bird seed?” asked Dr Dewar.

Novel insecticide seed treatments, reducing the need for spraying, meant beet now had a very much better environmental profile than wheat and especially oilseed rape, he added.

But resistance to such neonicotinoids was inevitable, and the introduction of “generic” imidacloprid, which would intensify its use, would be “interesting”.

With Aztec (triazamate) and Temik (aldicarb) gone, the defence line was thin should there be too much prophylactic spraying. “If we get resistance it will take us straight back to the 1960s,” he warned.

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