With approximately two-thirds of the sugar beet harvest complete, some sugar factories are set to stay open for longer due to wet soil conditions delaying harvesting in some areas.
Peter Watson, agriculture director British Sugar says: “Although we have seen challenging harvesting conditions with high levels of rainfall, the sugar beet campaign is progressing well, and some very welcome drier weather recently has helped with lifting. We are very grateful for the efforts of all growers, harvesters, hauliers and contractors who continue to keep our four factories supplied.
“So far, we have lifted around two-thirds of the crop, and are expecting yields to be slightly above average and higher than last year. Our factories have not always been running at full capacity due to the weather and subsequent lifting conditions so the campaign will extend slightly, but we would urge our growers with sugar beet in the ground to take every opportunity to lift.”
NFU Sugar chairman Michael Sly says 1.18 – 1.2 million tonnes of sugar is expected to have been produced from UK beet by the end of the season compared with 1.13 million tonnes last year despite the UK sugar beet area being 9-10 per cent down on last year.
“Looking at the 2020 crop, due to pressure on autumn sown crops we expect to see a similar area or higher than 2019 – about 105,000ha for 2020. It is a reasonable alternative spring crop to grow should conditions allow.”
Source: Michael Sly, NFU sugar chairman
While most of the sugar beet crop has been harvested in The Arable Group agronomist, Tim Wood’s area of Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Essex, he believes establishing a sugar beet crop this season will be tricky, particularly on heavy, wet soils.
“Normally growers are ploughing and applying base fertilisers but there is no ploughing or putting on base fertilisers at the moment. Many may fallow the land and not do anything.”
As well as the state of the land, choosing whether to grow the crop will depend on factors such as margins, cost of seed – which is expensive due to increased demand, says Mr Wood. “Some may come out of the crop as they are making no money and wrecking the soil structure.”
The years 2000 and 2012 were wet beet harvesting seasons but less of the crop was grown in ‘outlying areas’, says Mr Wood. “Growing it has spread to areas not suited to bad conditions.”