Sugar factories are opening a week to two weeks later than normal this season due to a lower volume of the crop to process.
The Bury St Edmunds and Newark plants will open on October 4, Wissington on October 6 and Cantley on October 11, said Colin Walters of British Beet Growers Research Organisation. “This is a little later than normal as there is less area to process: less was contracted. It will give the crop more opportunity to grow to its potential.”
Currently, root weights are slightly below average for the time of season but sugar content is slightly ahead, says Mr Walters. Once harvesting commences, he advises growers to minimise the time between harvesting and delivery to the sugar factory.
“If it stays warm, it’s important not to harvest too much – only what you can get moved to the factory. Any time beet is sitting in a heap it is losing sugar and not growing. From September onwards, it probably has 40% of its growing to do.”
With harvest on the horizon, East Anglia-based independent agronomist Tim Wood says the recent run of sunny weather is allowing the crop to gain sugar and yield. “We had a cold late spring so it got off to a slow start but it booked up after we got into July. There have been no major problems with pests and no major disease issues.
“It’s not going to break any records but we expect reasonable tonnages.”
Ground condition varies between areas but in those where it is hard, growers may need to irrigate a little, said Mr Wood. “Where there is no access to water, contractors can usually juggle things around, coming back later in the season.”
While NFU sugar committee member Tim Beaver, who grows 3,000 tonnes of sugar beet in South Lincolnshire, is also hopeful that a sunny September could help the crop make up lost ground, he also believes yields will be modest.
“It could be one of the shortest campaigns on record. Some took a holiday [from growing sugar beet] because of the prices; there won’t be record yields either. Some was hit with late frost and never made it.”
Harvester set-up to minimise root breakages