Despite a rough season for sugar beet following drought, virus yellows and foliar disease outbreaks, an improvement in the weather means there is still potential to add yield.
That is the view of Dr Simon Bowen, head of knowledge exchange, British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO). “Many growers have harvested poorer crops first which is reflected in lower yields and sugar content. Crops that are left tend to have healthier canopies which in many cases is regrowth post drought, virus and disease.”
A warmer, drier weather spell forecast in early November means there is some growth potential for crops with a good level of green area index, says Dr Bowen.
“I also ran the BBRO yield model which showed that crop left until the end of November still has the potential to increase root yield by 5-10 tonnes/hectare with a corresponding increase in sugar yield.”
in Yorkshire, where harvest progress has been helped by a spell of dry days, Hutchinsons agronomist, Sam Hugill says although yields have been hit by the season’s challenges, in his area they are not down as much as some initially feared.
He says: “Yields are down 10-15 per cent. We had 10 weeks without a drop of rain [from April to June] and a lot of growers had to irrigate just to get the crop out of the ground. Plants struggled to meet between the rows and virus has had an impact. A lot of effort has gone into this season.”
Despite some growers delaying sugar beet drilling to allow the ‘first flush’ of virus transmitting aphids to pass, it has not translated to better yields, says Mr Hugill.
“Early sown beet had a majority of the virus and showed more yellowing but since the plant put on its 12-14 leaf, green growth started to appear again. Anything later sown does not have improved yields.”
Without the option of neonics, most growers turned to amino acids, micronutrients and biostimulants this season to try to optimise yield, says Mr Hugill.
However, in south Lincolnshire, for grower David Hoyles virus yellows has had a severe impact.
He says: “We are seeing a 70 per cent yield drop. Our five-year average yield is 92.2 tonnes/hectares at 17.4 per cent sugar. This harvest it is 28.8t/ha and sugars are 14.2 per cent.”
He says 80-90 per cent of the yield penalty is down to virus yellows, but the dry spring and late and uneven emergence has not helped.
Contract performance rules will not be applied to the 2020 sugar beet crop results, British Sugar has announced.
Peter Watson, agriculture director at British Sugar says: “This year’s yield performance will not count towards the five-year averages for next year’s Virus Yellows Assurance Scheme and will be discounted from your [a grower’s] five-year average, in consideration of future planning yield.
Mr Watson adds: “Although I can’t control the weather, there are other areas where we are working hard for the long-term sustainability of our home-grown sugar industry. Together with NFU Sugar and BBRO, we’re maintaining regular dialogue with Government on the challenges our industry faces, including advocating for a level playing field. We’ll share more on this in the coming weeks and months.”