Five high octane entries

31 March 2001

Five high octane entries

Beet variety choice goes the extra mile this season. Gilly Johnson previews the new Recommended List, out next month

LETS hear it for the plant breeders. Theyre giving growers the opportunity to raise average beet profits by almost 1% with this springs newcomers: a clutch of five high performance varieties filling the gaps in nearly all categories.

The only omission is with varieties suited to very early sowing, says NIABs Simon Kerr – but the wet spring could put a stop to very early drilled beet anyway. Old favourite Celt, which had a special use recommendation for early drilling thanks to low bolting, is being removed from the new list because its yield doesnt stack up against the competition. The case against Celt was finally sealed when its early bolting rating dipped last spring.

This leaves specialist early drilling enthusiasts with a choice of Roberta or Jessica. Even though bolting scores dont match Celts, overall performance is much better, says Mr Kerr. "But be patient. There are some excellent varieties in the trials pipeline that look very promising on early bolting."

Mainstream newcomers are led by Humber from Lion Seeds, an Essex-based breeding stable, which has come back into the frame with a front-runner, after many years without success. "Humber looks extremely good with high sugar, high root yield, low impurities and excellent establishment," says Mr Kerr. "But its not suited to early sowing."

Murray is Lion Seeds other success. This is a high sugar, low root yield type, with low impurities – a good choice on organic soils, he says. Because of potentially lower haulage costs, it could be that low root yield varieties come under the spotlight following the recent factory closures which will force some beet loads to travel further. "Its a point to watch," says Mr Kerr.

There are two contrasting beet types from the German KWS breeding programme, sold through the English Sugar Beet Seed Company. Priscilla has high sugar, and very low impurities, but is not suited to early sowing. Latoya has very high root yield and lower sugar content, with excellent establishment and reasonable for early sowing, but some susceptibility to rust.

Theres good news for anyone with rhizomania confirmed on the farm. Bred in the US, Concept (Betaseeds) "is a major breakthrough," says Mr Kerr. It bridges the performance gap with rhizomania tolerant types and conventional varieties. Concept is up there with the best of the newcomers on growers income score, and as the icing on the cake, Concept nails that old problem with rhizomania tolerance: early bolting. It gives respectable ratings on bolting, but is susceptible to rust.

The bad news is that as part of the national rhizomania control strategy, Concept will only be allowed on farms with rhizomania, and on these farms, it cannot be grown on the infected sites themselves, which must still be removed from beet production.

So Concepts commercial future depends on politics. The UKs official status as rhizomania-free is to reviewed, again, in November. "I expect this status will be extended, but it depends on the number of outbreaks this summer." There were 13 new outbreaks in 2000, bringing the total to 143 farms.

The Rhizomania Stewardship Scheme, allowing beet production to be moved away from problem areas, has reduced the potential area for rhizomania tolerant varieties anyway. Of the whole risk area, 43% has been contracted away, says Mr Kerr.

Other changes to the new list include a reshuffle in the generally recommended group, with Chorus replacing Jackpot, which is removed.

"Chorus has very low impurities and reasonably high sugar, and deserved promotion," says Mr Kerr.

Falling off the list are Anthem, Clarissa, Duke and Swift, which all failed the test of promotion against the strong G varieties, and special use Celt, which had served a good ten years. The clear out leaves a slimmed down choice but "one which gives a good spread of different types".

With a difficult, muddy harvest fresh in the memory, including NIAB information on varietal differences in dirt tares is a possibility for the future. "Some measurements are made on the Continent," says Mr Kerr. "Varieties with more creases and crinkly, less smooth skin will tend to attract more dirt than others. But differences are relatively small and its likely that soil conditions are the key issue."

Its not clear when sugar beet seed contracts will be sent out this year. The changes to growers/processors agreement, the IPA, caused a delay last season; if the system returns to normal, then decisions for 2002 will have to be made in June/July. The NIAB Recommended List will be published shortly.

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