As the 2018/19 sugar beet harvest enters its final weeks, sugar beet yields are down on last year, with sugar factories expected to close sooner, however, yields are not as low as expected in some cases. Marianne Curtis and Alice Dyer report
NFU commercial analyst (sugar), Arthur Marshall, says: “Growers were expecting lower yields than average following dry weather and late sowing. With quite favourable weather through autumn they are saying yields are not as low as they expected.”
Mr Marshall says there have been fewer problems with sugar factories than last year, however, growers were reluctant to lift early, particularly in the area supplying Newark, preferring to allow beet to ‘bulk out a bit more’.
While sugar content has been higher than last year, Mr Marshall says: “Impurities have been high which affects extractability of sugar.
“Dry weather through autumn means dirt has been relatively lower with beet coming out very clean and reducing the amount growers have to haul.”
Generally, sugar factories will close earlier that last year, says Mr Marshall. “We expect Bury St Edmunds to close around mid-February, Cantley, early to mid-February, Newark towards the third week in March and Wissington, the second week in March.”
Colm McKay, agriculture director, British Sugar, says: “Harvesting of this season’s crop continues in generally good conditions. Yield prospects are more encouraging than earlier in the season when drought conditions prevailed. However, it is too early to predict the final outturn.”
Andrew Blenkiron, estate manager, Euston Estate in Suffolk has 20 hectares of his 250ha of sugar beet left to harvest and says yields never recovered from the exceptionally dry summer.
“We’ve probably lost 30 per cent of our budgeted yield, so we’re only coming in at around 55t/ha.”
Yields have increased only marginally from the start of the harvesting season and sugar content sits at 17.5 per cent.
“This includes sugar beet that we irrigated heavily in September in an attempt to get better yields. We did a lot of trials on various water rates and it doesn’t have seemed to have really stimulated the growth that we had expected.
“We thought this and the August rain would boost the yield, and it probably has saved the crop from being virtually written off, but in terms of recouping the investment in water it’s difficult to know if we’ve justified that.”
Despite the challenging growing season, the dry weather has given way to an easy harvest.
“It’s been fantastic lifting conditions because it’s been so very dry even into the winter period. The stuff we lifted between Christmas and New Year did very little damage to the soil and it’s still very dry.”