Teddy Maufe farms 407ha
(1000 acres) at Branthill
Norfolk. Sugar beet lies at
the heart of the rotation,
with other crops including
winter barley, wheat and
oats, spring barley and
WE seem to have the dubious distinction of being the first farm in England to find low sugar disease in our beet.
So far Brooms Barn plant clinic has not confirmed that we have the disease for certain. Little is known about the condition, which is dubbed Syndrome des Basses Richesses in France, but it is thought to be caused by mycoplasmas, probably transmitted by leaf hoppers.
For us the story began in October when sugar beet started dropping from our belt-lift harvester. Close inspection of the crop showed 10-25% of the sugar beet had suffered an almost total loss of tops. Just a few outer leaves were left sticking up like celery stalks.
I called in my agronomist, Dr Philip Draycott, who confirmed it was not boron deficiency and went away to do some research. While on the Continent he had been shown the symptoms of Syndrome des Basses Richesses which closely matched my affected crop.
The big indicator of this disease is its effect on sugar content and amino-N levels.
Sure enough, my affected beet mirrored the expected results – sugars down from 18.5% to 15.3% and amino-N up from 114 to 287.
The disease has now been found to be quite common across north Norfolk. Some of the fields of my neighbour, with whom I share the belt-lift harvester, suffered 70% infection. After a lot of deliberation we bought an old Oppel wheel three-row tanker to cope with the bulk of the crop.
Despite the low sugar problems my adjusted yields have risen steadily to 59t/ha (24t/acre). That suggests the disease arrived in the crop late and has not depressed yield too much.
If the disease arrived earlier in a generally poor crop year, I think it could be a much more serious problem. Next month I hope to be able to return to more everyday farm matters.
Low sugar disease has been Teddy Maufes main concern over the past four weeks. Fortunately yield does not seem to have suffered too much.