25 February 2000


SUGAR beet growers tempted to cut crop area this spring in a bid to replace excess tonnage with a more profitable alternative must take care not to jeopardise their quota, warns an independent consultant.

British Sugar is expected to produce around 1.5m tonnes of sugar from the 1999 crop, a surplus of almost 400,000t – 35% over the UKs 1.14m tonnes A and B quota.

The excess will be paid for at what could be a record low adjusted C-beet price, with the cheque delayed for almost a year.

"Many growers will end up with a lot of C-beet this year," says Beetchecks Angus Kennedy. "But in many cases area cut-backs have already been made and growers must resist the temptation to cut deeper and risk missing the quota target in a poor season."

After three years of plenty it may be that high yielding seasons do not continue, he warns. "Growers who miss quota in a single year will not be penalised, but they will be under increased pressure in the next two seasons."

Furthermore, they can not expect to be at the front of the queue if and when extra quota is allocated, he says.

Seed sales suggest the national crop has already been trimmed significantly. BS believes sufficient should be grown to meet quota with a 10% leeway, a good margin in most seasons.

"Many growers who regularly achieve quota with a big safety margin have already cut back so have little spare capacity to safely trim any more," says Mr Kennedy. But others who produce 20-30% C-beet could still make cuts. "While a big safety net is required on thin drought-prone soils, this is an excessive luxury on others and there is some scope to reduce area."

As sugar yield on headlands is often 25% less than elsewhere in the field that may seem an obvious choice for cutting beet. But that could bring problems.

Wheat is usually the preferred alternative because the stubble provides easy assess to the root crop at lifting. But wheat usually follows beet in the rotation, so switching field margins to wheat in the beet year could increase headland take-all when the whole field is in wheat the following year.

Spray drift could also cause damage, and residual N levels are likely to be different, which could affect milling wheat protein and malting barley quality.

"Reducing the beet area should be a strategic decision and not a knee-jerk reaction to a big crop in a single season," says Mr Kennedy. "Any changes should be planned carefully and slotted into a long-term management programme, which will almost certainly involve more winter wheat."

"The economic performance of peas, probably the best spring alternative, is at best marginal. A 2t/acre crop worth £75/t only provides a relatively small economic benefit over a sugar crop with an average C-beet price. And next seasons C-beet price could be better, particularly if there is a natural disaster somewhere in the world. Any reduction in the beet crop this spring could be counter-productive," Mr Kennedy concludes. &#42


&#8226 Big C-beet yield, low price.

&#8226 Some cuts made, more likely.

&#8226 Caution urged.

&#8226 Protect A and B quota.

&#8226 What to sow instead?

&#8226 C-beet worth more in 2000?

Cut your beet area with care to avoid extra difficulties in future, says Beetchecks Angus Kennedy.

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