Responsible for the agronomy of 13,000 ha’s of arable cropping across three sites in Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, Ben points out that on the Lincolnshire farms sugar beet remains a key break crop adding much needed diversity to the rotation.
High yields, sugar content and good all-round agronomics such as bolting resistance and robust disease resistance, are important for a variety to be successful on farm; it’s the combination of characteristics that really matters,” he acknowledges.
“Last year we grew BTS 1140 and BTS 3325 both which meet these criteria, and considering the difficulties with getting the crop out of the ground, we were very pleased with the yields. Our average adjusted yield was 87- 96t/ha across the sites, giving us an overall average of 93t/ha.”
“We aim to get the beet drilled by the end of March; drilling starts as soon as conditions and soil temperatures are favourable from the beginning of March. It’s really important to plant varieties according to their most appropriate drilling date; so we always grow several varieties at one time.”
“Varieties more suited to the early slot such as BTS 3325 are drilled first, and we then move onto varieties such as BTS 1140, which are better suited for the normal drilling slot from mid-March onwards.”
Ron Granger, Limagrain’s sugar beet product manager agrees with Ben’s approach, pointing out that whilst yield and sugar content are the top criteria for choosing a new sugar beet variety, factors such as establishment and bolting tolerance are also very important – particularly when deciding which variety is best suited for a certain situation.
Ron notes that sugar beet breeding is in the fortunate position where breeders are still able to push yields without compromising the sugar content – and this is at a time when many other arable crop yields have plateaued.
“This is why growers are able to access varieties such as BTS 1140 that are high yielding but also offer a high sugar content.”
“Based on this, BTS 1140 continues to be one of the leading tried and tested varieties on the 2020-2021 BBRO recommended List, and there is no reason to think that this will change, due to its proven performance on farm.”
“Its reliability of performance along with good foliar disease tolerance for rust and powdery mildew, as well as excellent downy mildew resistance, make it an all-round favourite.”
Getting sugar beet up and away
Cultivations for sugar beet at Dyson Beeswax are focussed around ploughing in early autumn, leaving the soils to weather over the winter, followed in the spring, by one pass with the cultivator in front of the drill.
“The sugar beet is drilled at 1.2 units/ha which working on 80% establishment gives us about 100,000 plants, depending on the field or site.”
Ben’s aim is to get the sugar beet established and up to the 12 leaf stage as soon as possible, as this gives it the best chance against flea beetle and virus yellows damage.
“So early nutrition is important,” he says. “This spring as the soils were wetter and colder, at establishment we applied phosphate in the form of DAP into the seedbed, promoting crucial early root and shoot development.”
“We also keep a keen eye on trace elements, topping up whatever is deficient,” he points out.
“So far we have not seen too many aphids but will obviously continue to monitor this – we want to avoid spraying if we can. At least we have the fall back of Biscaya or Tepeki if we need.”
“We have found organic manures applied in the late summer to autumn are important to help make the soils more resilient, which definitely paidoff in last year’s very wet conditions,” explains Ben.
“We trialled a third of our crop using just digestate last year, so no manufactured fertiliser was used, instead opting for a mixture of home produced solid and liquid digestate, applied pre-drilling in the seedbed.”
“The digestate is high in potassium, which is needed by the sugar beet, so it’s a perfect solution. Yield results from this crop were very good averaging 96t/ha.”
“There’s no doubt the condition of the soil has a big influence on late season campaigning, he adds. “In the right conditions, crops can put on a lot of yield in late season if you have the resilience in the soil to manage later lifting, then you can take advantage of this, and I think we certainly saw the benefits of this, this year with the later lifting of some crops, he adds.
“Looking ahead we shall have to see what happens with pricing of course, we are trying some new varieties, BTS 4100, Kortessa and Advena, as well as sticking with BTS 1140 and BTS 3325.”
We also have the challenges of loss of chemistry to contend with; it’s going to be difficult to find an effective replacement with the loss of desmedipham for weed control.”