Early beet liftings paint a very diverse picture
By Andrew Blake
EARLY beet liftings suggest unexpectedly good yields on heavy land in Suffolk. But poorer prospects elsewhere mean factory openings delayed as late as Oct 8.
Its looking good at the moment," says Robert Goose, manager at Deben Farms, Woodbridge. An estimated 55t/ha (22t/acre) from Zulu on silty clay loam marshland should see quota exceeded comfortably.
"We budget on 48-50t/ha for our early lifts." But early sugar contents in the Ipswich area are 17.5-18%, 1.5-2% down on average, he notes.
Bury St Edmunds-based contractor Ken Rush reckons output is well up to the five-year average. "I am firmly of the opinion that some crops in our area will yield as well as last year. We wont be on for a record, but I am pleasantly surprised."
With very little late sowing in the area, Mr Rush says variable root size is generally not an issue. "We could run into problems on some lighter soils which capped badly in heavy April rain and the beet stood still. But at the moment on heavy land plant stands are very good."
Customer Peter Brown is satisfied with the estimated 35-37t/ha (14-15t/acre) from 26ha (65 acres) of Alexa resown at the end of April because of first-time millipede damage. "Its a reasonable yield considering it lost about six weeks growth. It was a big decision to redrill, but it has turned out the right thing to do." The heavy land crop at Moseleys Farm, Fordham All Saints, has to be lifted early to make sure of establishing wheat, he says.
Overall quality should be good this year, but record yields are unlikely, says British Sugar.
"The crop is OK, but not brilliant," says Chris Carter, BS director of agriculture. "Its quite reasonable in East Anglia. But its patchy in the west and the worst I have seen in 10 years in mid and North Yorks."
Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich factories began processing last week and most others opened on Monday. But relatively poor prospects mean Kidderminster will not start until Oct 5, while growers delivering to Allscott and York must wait until Oct 8. *
GM beet controls
Measures to ensure no genetically modified sugar beet is delivered to British Sugar factories have been tightened this season.
"Last year we implemented a fully auditable set of procedures with the consent holders and trialling organisations," says agriculture director Chris Carter. Those required them to confirm destruction of the GM crops, but it was only a paper exercise.
"This year we are going well beyond that because the number of trials and their complexity has increased."
Three months of negotiations with nine third parties including seed breeders, NIAB and chemical companies AgrEvo and Monsanto have led to an agreement on very stringent practical controls, says Mr Carter. "It involves rigorous checks on all trials to make sure they are completed and properly signed off."
In general no beet from contracts which include GM trials may be delivered to factories until checks have been made to ensure the modified crop has been destroyed and sent to landfill.
Another change means discard areas around GM trials must also be destroyed.
• Mr Carter stresses that no GM beet were knowingly processed at BS factories during the 1997/98 campaign.