Sugarbeet growers face cold weather guidance

Published online: Oct 31, 2013
Viewed 1044 time(s)

Scientists have spent five months trying to identify the cause of emergence problems affecting sugarbeet crops in all four factory areas of eastern England this spring.

Findings from a series of independent experiments overseen by the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) are due to be presented to farmers during a meeting next month.

A BBRO interim report has already suggested that cold weather had a significant part to play in triggering problems with sugarbeet crops across the east of England.

But it also suggested there could be influencing factors outside of the cold weather.

Some growers continue to raise questions over the Xbeet Plus technology used by British Sugar subsidiary Germains to process all beet seed for crops drilled in 2013.

But Germains insists its Xbeet Plus seed priming and pelleting technology continues to offer "significant benefit" to growers.

In a statement on Monday (21 October), Germains said it had undertaken its own extensive investigation, in parallel to the BBRO study.

Germains sugarbeet business unit director Gerard Mulqueen said prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures had a considerable impact on sugar beet emergence.

"As part of this investigation we developed a stress test that mimicked, as closely as possible, the unprecedented and prolonged cold temperatures experienced earlier this year."

Xbeet Plus continued to offer a significant benefit over and above its predecessor Xbeet as well as unprimed seed - even under cold, dry and stressful conditions, added Dr Mulqueen.

"Germains will continue to work closely with the industry to support the knowledge and expertise needed to provide enhanced guidelines for drilling the UK sugar beet crop in challenging conditions."

More detailed results from the BBRO study will be presented to growers during an NFU meeting at the East of England Showground, Peterborough, on Friday 15 November.

Growers attending the meeting will be given the opportunity to question BBRO representatives about the results and their implications.

The NFU Sugar team will be on hand to explain any further steps which need to be taken, with time for growers to raise any points they wish.

In the meantime, NFU Sugar chairman William Martin has urged farmers not to jump to any premature conclusions about the causes of poor crop establishment.

The failure of some lots of seed to germinate or grow away properly was a problem that had not gone away, he told farmers during this month's NFU council meeting.

"Now that the crops are being harvested, people are seeing the results," he said.

Some growers were seeing lower yields due to poor plant populations. Others were observing malformed roots which were causing harvesting difficulties and higher dirt tares, said Mr Martin.

"We are not in the NFU scientists and it is not appropriate for us to attempt to make scientific judgements about what has or has not happened - and about who is or who is not responsible for what has happened."

The independent BBRO had done a lot of work already, including a draft report, and the NFU would continue to ensure it addressed vital questions, said Mr Martin.

"To the frustration of many growers, that report is inconclusive and we have been put under pressure by some growers to produce some more conclusive answers.

"I am afraid that the NFU cannot do that. The NFU cannot make scientific answers appear when the scientists haven't produced them.

"If the scientific community to date hasn't produced the answers that we want, or the answers that some farmers want, the solution is not for the NFU to make those answers up."