6 June 1998


Which varieties will be the best earners in 1999? Gilly Johnson asks those in the know.

Sugar beet rankings have been shaken up but no single variety stands out in the 1999 listings.

LOTS of eggs and lots of baskets – thats the best insurance policy when choosing sugar beet varieties.

Translated into seed orders, think perhaps five different varieties, from a range of plant breeders, suggests NIABs Simon Kerr.

Such an approach undoubtedly proved its worth last year. The season was simply odd, theres no other way to describe it, says Mr Kerr. The wet summer dragged out the growing season, yields bulked up late on, and varieties behaved out of character.

Conditions didnt suit some of the front-running beet varieties – while others from different genetic backgrounds delivered the goods.

So the wisest strategy was to spread the risk. Bear this lesson in mind during seed selection decisions this month, he advises.

Happily, the range of varieties on offer has expanded this year. The choice is no longer dominated by one seed house – other breeding lines are making a mark on the 1999 Recommended List.

Variety ranking has also undergone a shake-up following the inclusion of last seasons atypical results in the database. In the main, 1997 suited low sugar/high root yield types, such as Roberta, bred by KWS (marketed by the English Sugar Beet Seed Company). The high sugar varieties didnt appear to be able to bulk up to the same extent.


Two casualties are familiar favourites: Saxon and Aztec, both from Novartis Seeds (formerly Hilleshög). These vanish from the fully recommended category.

But its not the end of the road completely, which may come as a relief for die-hard Saxon growers. Its permissible to drill up to 10% of the crop down to varieties not listed as recommended on the British Sugar order form, if seed can be sourced, points out Mr Kerr.

The removal of Saxon was not unexpected, he adds. "We always give the breeders two years prior warning of when a varietys performance is falling back. Saxons been a tremendous variety, but there are other high sugar/low impurity varieties which now supersede it."

Jackpot (Delitzsch) is promoted into the fully recommended category. Yields have been consistently high over the past three years.

Despite lower growers income, Celt (Novartis Seeds) remains fully recommended for special use as an early sowing variety, thanks to exceptionally low bolting, and good establishment. Other names to consider in this slot might be Zulu, Madison (Danisco Seed – a Celt type but with higher yield potential) and Nicola (English Sugar Beet Seed).

The PG category has been turned upside down by the difficult 1997 season. "Madison showed a serious blip in yield, which has pulled its growers income figure down," says Mr Kerr. After leading the pack last year, Madison is now languishing near the bottom of the performance chart. Sister high sugar variety Madrid suffers a similar fate.

Low sugar type Oberon (Novartis Seeds) also had a hard time. Oberons growers income figure has also dropped back this season.

Camilla (English Sugar Beet Seed) shows a relatively low growers income figure, but this is rather a reflection of bad seed in 1995, than of true potential. The graph shows how performance is well up in the following seasons. Next year the blip in yield will fall out of the matrix.

Five new names make their first appearance in the 1999 PG category, from four different breeding houses. All come in with excellent credentials, sitting on the top of the growers income table for PG varieties.

Anthem and Chorus (bred in the US by Betaseed, agent is Nickerson UK), are both high sugar/low impurity types that bucked the general trend and did well last year. Chorus makes its debut with the highest growers income figure on the list.

"Establishment was not as good as we would have liked to see," comments Mr Kerr. This concern is also true of new entrant Clarissa (English Sugar Beet Seed), another high sugar/low impurity type, with large top size.

"But we shouldnt read too much into these initial establishment results, because all three varieties ended up with good yield – thats what counts."

The German KWS breeding programme has produced varieties which are doing well – Roberta, Alexa, Nicola, Camilla and now Clarissa, says Mr Kerr. "It would be good to see the company matching Novartis Seeds on long-term consistency of seed quality, high establishment and low bolting."

Duke (Delitzsch) is an alternative type – low sugar but very high root yield. This combination of characteristics is favoured by the processor, and Dukes appeal will be enhanced by the fact that it also boasts the lowest impurity levels.

Due to low crown height, it is not a variety suited to stony soils. "Late season it shows a distinct prostrate growth habit, with small tops." Duke is also good on establishment.

Swift (bred in Belgium by SES, marketed by Advanta Seeds) completes the group of new entrants. A high sugar/low root yield variety, it didnt manage a sparkling performance last season, but growers income is up near the top.

Three of the newcomers – Swift, Duke and Chorus – have poor resistance to rust and this should be noted, says Mr Kerr.


After putting in their required time in the PG category, both Scarlett (Delitzsch) and Verity (SES, Advanta Seeds) vanish without achieving full recommendation.

Having failed to win market share, Verity is withdrawn by the breeder in favour of better varieties coming through. Scarletts performance did not merit promotion, says Mr Kerr.

Rhizomania-resistant variety Ballerina (KWS; English Sugar Beet Seed) can now be grown on infected farms, but not on infected fields. Ballerina will slow down the development of the disease. Sister resistant variety Rebecca, and Rosana from Delitzsch, are further back in the pipeline. Both promise better yield and bolting resistance.

Also in trials are genetically modified glyphosate- and glufosinate-tolerant varieties. Lines from Novartis Seeds and KWS are just a year away from consideration for the Recommended List. Danisco also has a herbicide-tolerant variety, a year behind.

Agronomically, these GM beets have had some problems with establishment but the herbicide tolerance is successful, says Mr Kerr.

Track record of G and S varieties

Choose five varieties from the NIAB list, suggests Simon Kerr.

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