A decent spell of spring weather has seen field work progress up and down the country. However, delays to sugar beet seed deliveries on-farm as a result of awaiting the outcome of the Rothamsted Virus Yellows forecast and port disruptions are holding up drilling for some growers.
Assistant farm manager Jamie Robson says so far 140 hectares of sugar beet have been drilled at the Thoresby Estate near Newark but they are waiting on the arrival of seed for a further 100ha.
“We started drilling last Saturday (March 20). We are on light, blow away sand so it has gone in really well. We are big believers in getting it in early and because we grow a lot of roots here, we could not use the neonic seed treatment due to the restrictions [on following crops that could be grown].”
Despite many growers seeing vast yield drops last season, Mr Robson says the estate’s yields remained average.
“We had a good year last year. I do not know how we did it, but we were not too affected [by virus yellows]. We averaged about 90 tonnes/ha. If we had had a bad year last year, we might be rethinking our area. It is the same with oilseed rape – at the moment we are getting away with it. We will have to see what happens this year whether we grow it the following year.”
With field operations around a week ahead of last year, potato planting is set to commence on March 29 with 160ha of crop to go in.
“Onion drilling has just finished and they have gone in really well. Next we will be preparing carrot ground to start drilling in the second week of April,” says Mr Robson.
Meanwhile in Lincolnshire, Boston grower Jonathan Fowler says he was lucky to escape seed delays after changing his order from neonicotinoid-treated to untreated seed before the outcome of the derogation was decided when he heard there might be issues.
“I could not afford to risk having seed in mid-April so during the frost I cancelled the order. It is important for us to get beet in early and away so it is of reasonable size before the aphid invasion comes. My neighbours only got their seed yesterday (March 24) and have just started drilling which is frustrating for them because they have lost three or four days of drilling.”
Mr Fowler says he is confident that aphid numbers and virus potential will be easier to manage this year following the outcome of the Rothamsted aphid survey, but the decision date came too late after the delays caused.
“The delays are just another nail in the coffin,” he says.
He grows 60ha of sugar beet on a one-year contract for British Sugar and has made good progress with drilling this season.
“We are hoping to finish drilling tonight (March 25) ahead of rain over the weekend. It has been a very wet winter, but the land is working much better because of the frosts we had. The soil conditions are working very nicely. It is still fairly damp underneath but where we have got good drainage and the fields are in better order than they have probably been for the last three years.”
Peter Watson, agriculture director at British Sugar says the vast majority of seed for the 2021/22 sugar beet crop is now on farm, and drilling is well underway.
“We are ahead of schedule for final deliveries and are targeting completion of all deliveries by the end of March. To achieve this, over the last few weeks we have put in place additional resources to quicken the pace, including supporting our seed delivery network.”