A cold spring has led to slow establishment of sugar beet crops leaving them vulnerable to pests
A cold, wet start to spring led to delayed establishment of many sugar beet crops with some growers having to redrill.
In Norfolk’s Cantley area, significant areas of beet were drilled at the normal time of about March, 21, but suffered due to the subsequent cold snap, says NFU sugar committee member, David Papworth, who farms there.
“Quite a lot of beet went in in good time. The problem was not emergence, the problem was because of the cold weather it didn’t grow on and skylarks and pigeons bit off the cotyledon leaves.
“Some later crops were drilled well into April and came through quickly. But rain followed by dry, baking weather led to surface compaction and an emergence problem, particularly on headlands. We redrilled a headland around one field out of 160ha and most is quite green now.”
Sugar beet yields will suffer as a result of establishment difficulties, believes Mr Papworth. “For anything drilled after April, 1 there’s bound to be a yield loss. For that established around March, 21 we’d normally expect 80-100t/ha but we’ll be very lucky to get 70t/ha this year.”
However, sugar beet is a resilient crop and can make up lost ground, according to independent consultant Robin Limb. “Every year 1-4% is redrilled and I’m not aware of any major issues this year. It’s been a very cold and protracted spring so crops are two weeks behind where they’d normally be at this stage but plant populations are good.
“As long as we get relatively equal amounts of sunshine and rainfall it will continue to grow. The last thing we need is a dry summer.”
Aphids are also a risk where emergence is delayed, he warns. “With early aphid migration you are on the back foot when trying to defend against virus yellows. There are very few tools left in the tool box now with most aphids resistant to Aphox.”
Suffolk-based sugar beet grower Andrew Blenkiron, who finished drilling on April 6, is waiting to assess the impact of skylarks and other pests. “The slow emergence meant skylarks had a good go at it. It’s two weeks too early to tell whether it needs patching up or redrilling.”
While he hasn’t redrilled any sugar beet on his own farm or contracting for others, Selby, North Yorkshire-based NFU sugar committee member Graham Liddle says he wouldn’t be surprised if some do.
“There’s been a lot of trouble with skylarks and the plant population is low on some farms. It will be a low yielding year, definitely.”