As sugar factories begin processing this year’s sugar beet crop, yields look relatively high, ranging from 65-80 tonnes/hectare (26-32t/acre) but sugar content is somewhat low at around 16.5 per cent.
NFU sugar board chairman Michael Sly, who farms in Cambridgeshire, said three of the four sugar factories were settling down after a few teething issues and the final factory to begin processing – Cantley in Norfolk – had begun taking in beet during the weekend of September 23-24 and was ramping up production.
“Lifting and carting to the factory is going ok. There are certain places where wet weather has just hampered some lifting but not in all areas. Combinable crop harvest has just finished in some areas and people are starting to get going.
“The potential is there for a reasonable to above average yield. Anecdotally, I’m hearing of yields between 65-80t/ha.”
With high tonnages expected, Mr Sly believes the emphasis will be on throughput in factories rather than ‘extracting every morsel of sugar’. “When the factories begin to close we could be thinking of those Easter eggs.”
Frontier agronomist, David Allison, advises mainly farmers supplying British Sugar’s Newark factory. “Some sugars are down in the 15 per cents, the factory average is 16.5 per cent and on better ground some are at 16.8 per cent. Yields are good, ranging from 65-80t/ha.”
The low sugar contents are likely to be due to high available nitrogen during the growing season which is associated with low sugar content, says Mr Allison. “It was dry through June then has done nothing but rain since which could account for sugars being lower with plenty of N available.”
Mr Allison is concerned that a long processing season lies ahead. “The Newark factory has been restricting deliveries in the last week which has frustrated some of the farmers. British Sugar has said they still expect to be processing in April which terrified me. The high yields we are talking about will mean a longer campaign but things can change.”