Warm soils help sugar beet off to flying start
IDEAL soil conditions have prompted an earlier start to sugar beet drilling than ever, with some crops going in by the end of February.
Peter Lee admits his very early start is a gamble on heavy land at Vipans Farm, Haddenham and Highflier Farm, Ely, Cambs.
The first 38ha (94 acres) of this years 308ha (760-acre) crop was being sown as the last of his 1997 crop left for processing at Wissington factory on Feb 23. His earliest start before was Mar 4.
"It was on heavy clay, the conditions were lovely and the soil was very warm so we decided to take the gamble. We only get this land right once. Its usually either too wet or too dry."
Mr Lee appreciates the extra danger of bolting, but believes his choice of Madison is at less risk than some varieties.
"With todays varieties we dont seem to get the bolting we did years ago."
He is not too concerned should the gamble fail through poor germination. "We have some black fen land which blows and we sometimes have to drill again. The only costs are for another lot of seed and a bit of time."
British Sugar area manager Clive Casburn confirms several growers began drilling at the same time in north-west Norfolk. "It is exceptionally early – about a week ahead of last year."
Big contracts add to the pressure, demanding an early start to drilling to ensure all crops are in on time, he notes.
• Earlier drilling could make pre-emergence herbicides more important, suggests Colin Myram, technical director for Norfolk-based Crop Care Group. Slower crop emergence gives weeds longer to come through and develop, putting more pressure on post-emergence products, he says. *
Year round crop… The first of Peter Lees 308ha beet crop was drillled at Vipand Farm, Haddenham, Cambs, on Feb 23, before the last of the 1997 crop had been loaded for processing at British Sugars Wissington factory.