Sugar beet grower braced for losses after frost damage

A Cereals event host farmer is expecting his sugar beet yields to take a “hit” after the crop suffered seven days of frost damage.

Robert Law says sugar content has dropped from 15.5% to 14.2% in his beet, which is due to be harvested at Chrishall Grange Farm, Royston, Cambridgeshire, on Friday (13 January).

“This is the first time since 2010 we have had a lot of frost damage,” said Mr Law, who farms 500ha at Chrishall Grange, as part of a 1,600ha mixed farming enterprise, including cereals, a 1,800-ewe flock and 60 suckler cows.

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“In 2020, we had virus yellows in our beet, whereas this year it’s frost damage. We had about seven nights of heavy frost in late December with temperatures ranging from -7C to -11.6C one night.

“There was some snow cover, but in this lower patch of land, the frost seems to have hit hard.”

Mr Law said he will have to top the beet harder at harvest to get rid of the rotting beet caused by the frost damage.

“I don’t think this beet will keep well, so we will make sure the lorry is there so we can get it delivered straight into the Bury St Edmunds factory within 24 hours,” he added.

Mr Law says he knows other beet growers whose crops have also suffered frost damage.

‘Unprecedented challenges’

British Sugar said it was continually adapting to the “unprecedented challenges” caused by the extreme weather in the second half of the 2022-23 sugar beet campaign.

The summer drought meant beet crowns had less foliage to protect them during the December freeze, its agriculture director, Dan Green, said. “The quality of the crop has an impact on how efficiently we can process it through the sites,” he added.

Following a significant plant failure at its Cantley factory on the 19 December, British Sugar decided to close the factory for the remainder of this campaign.

By working together with growers, harvesters and hauliers, British Sugar hopes to minimise the impact of recent extreme weather over the coming weeks.

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