Seed treatments provide good insurance and value for money
IMPROVED varieties and modern seed treatments have done much to help sugar beet growers maintain production at lower costs, says British Sugars John Prince.
Since 1995 the amount of seed sown has dropped by a total of 37,000 units, saving growers £3.1m, yet output has remained steady, he says. "It shows that seed and seed dressings, especially Gaucho, are good value."
Standard "at cost" price for this springs crop was £84.50 a unit. Next seasons price will probably not be announced until the end of the year. "The aim of the industry is to keep any price rise to the absolute minimum. Much depends on interest rates."
Little has changed on the seed treatment front for the past two seasons, Gaucho (imidacloprid) accounting for about 73% of this years crop. "I reckon that figure has peaked. I can see no good reason why it should rise." Cost is £37.50 a unit.
Despite such widespread use there is still no evidence of aphid resistance to the chemical in the field, stresses Mr Prince.
"It is difficult to prove, but there does seem to be a lot less virus in the environment. That could tempt growers to reduce the amount they use. But any such move could soon lead to an increase again. Treatment is still good insurance against virus yellows."
Force (tefluthrin), used on about 3% of the crop, mainly in the north, is still the most cost-effective treatment against soil pests where aphid-borne virus yellows is not a risk, he says. Cost is £21 a unit.
Where crops are particularly at risk from soil pests, especially free-living eelworms which cause Docking disorder, the only alternative is to apply granules at drilling, says Mr Prince. The cost can be over twice that for Force.
About 14% of the crop receives granules each year. Growers of the remaining 10% sown without treatment or given granules, rely on foliar sprays to control aphids. Advantage pre-germination treatment, costing £12/unit, now accounts for about 10% of the crop. "It is not yet widely used, but it has seen a steady increase of about 2% a year in the past three against the background of a reduced overall area." Growers tend to use it on heavier soils and those prone to capping or slumping, and to offset slower-emergence from Gaucho-treated seed, he says.
"A number of people use it when drilling earlier where it gives a quicker and more uniform emergence."
New treatments, especially some with lower active ingredient loadings and reduced application rates, are probably five years off commercial launch, but Gaucho/ Force mixtures are being investigated, says Mr Prince. *
Seed treatment prices for 2001
Seed treatment prices £ a unit
Note: Standard seed at cost (£84.50 in 2000)
New seed treatments are some way off, but the current trio offer growers good value for money, maintains British Sugar.