• Sugar beet being drilled with Strube UK's pasteur sugar beet seeds

Choosing Your Sugar Beet Varieties

Sugar Beet: Managing Risk & Opportunity

How to choose sugar beet varieties is a question that we get asked a lot at Strube UK and selecting the right varieties for your next sugar beet crop seems to get more testing every year. Breeders are constantly working to improve the genetics of the crop and this leads to increasing sugar yields. Due to the year-on-year improvements, this in turn, leads to a fast turnover of varieties and, in some years, such as the one ahead – a greatly increased choice of new sugar beet varieties.

A sugar beet grower will potentially choose a variety for the best combination of yield, sugar content and low bolting – adding in his experience of the varieties that he is currently growing. The reasons that he might reject a variety are for high bolting and poorer establishment.

For 2017, there are a total of 23 sugar beet varieties from four breeders for growers to choose from, including 8 new varieties. There are 16 Rhizomania resistant varieties on the 2017 Recommended List for the main market segment, which makes up more than 95% of the National crop. And on the 2017 Descriptive List there are 6 varieties for Beet Cyst Nematode infected land – some 4-5% of the National crop, and 1 variety for land troubled by the AYPR strain of Rhizomania. There is plenty of choice and there are some useful and worthwhile differences to exploit.

Your Strategy for Choice

This year again, the strategy of simply picking some of the top varieties on the Recommended List potentially carries unnecessary risk – perhaps more than is usually the case. This is due to their genetic similarity, but also the high level of bolting from these varieties. Naturally one would wish to have a new, top-yielding variety in your portfolio but, for the sound “investment” option, it would be best to support this with a variety, or varieties, with a more successful commercial track record.

New varieties will have been in official trials for three years before they can be Recommended. These trials are necessarily based on small quantities of seed – just over a kilo of seed each year. So just over 3 kg of seed, often specially selected, is required for the full three years of trials.

By contrast, in the last three years we have delivered over 80 tonnes of Haydn, as a fully commercial variety, from which samples for trials are taken. Maintaining seed quality and performance on this scale is quite a different matter and the true test of a variety. It makes sound sense to use a degree of caution and see how a new variety manages the transition to commerce.

While the more established varieties are a couple of percentage points lower in yield, their yield performance is markedly more consistent. This makes it somewhat easier to plan the return that you might expect from your sugar beet crop.

From Trials to Commerce

Apart from consistency of performance, there is the question of the volume of seed involved in the trials process.  For the new varieties, as mentioned, only 3 kg of seed will have been required to complete the three years of National List and Recommended List Trials.  For varieties that are already Recommended, samples are taken from commercial lots.  Making the transition from trials to full commercial production of a variety is a dramatic upscale and experience has shown that not all varieties are able to retain their performance.

For the third year running, our number 1 variety in the UK, HAYDN, has been drilled on 20% of the sugar beet acreage – the maximum allowed by British Sugar for a single variety. It is a long time since another variety achieved this feat and is testament to the remarkable performance and consistency of HAYDN, which is clearly appreciated by growers.

HAYDN has achieved consistently excellent trial results over the last three years with seed taken from very sizeable tonnages of commercial bulks, rather than a performance derived from a few kilos of seed that are used for new varieties. In fact in 2015 Haydn outperformed many of the varieties that topped the List last year and it is this reliable performance across a range of seasons and conditions that has ensured HAYDN’s continuing popularity as a cornerstone of many growers’ sugar beet seed selection.

The Sugar Beet Selection Process

The suggested process for choosing a variety is shown below (figure 1).  First you need to consider any potential, specific disease threat in your chosen fields.  If the field has a history of Beet Cyst Nematode, then you should definitely be considering a variety which will tolerate an infestation and suppress nematode development.  You have a choice of 7 varieties from 4 breeders on the new Descriptive List.

If you have had a positive test for the AYPR strain of Rhizomania, or it is known to be a significant risk in your area, you will naturally want to consider growing the one tolerant variety available, SANDRA KWS, to prevent yield loss and further multiplication of the disease. If you are in any doubt on this matter, please consult your British Sugar Area Manager who will be able to advise you.

Figure 1: Sugar Beet Variety Selection Route – Step by step

 Sugar Beet variety selection step by step

The best strategy has generally been to choose your varieties from among the higher yielding varieties on the Recommended List. A variety that has been Recommended to the List has usually proved itself worthy after at least three years of independent trials and should be fit for purpose and give a good performance. However, other factors such as stability and consistency of performance, levels of early-sown and normal sown bolters, sugar content and personal experience of a variety are all important. For example, on the 2017 Recommended List, the greatest differences between the varieties lie in the levels of early sown and normal sown bolting.

Sugar Beet Yield

If neither problem of BCN or AYPR is anticipated, you will then naturally be looking for the highest potential yield.  How you set out to achieve this will depend on your drilling plan.  The difference in yield between recommended varieties and their stability of performance is usually the main criteria for selecting a variety.  However, the usual caveat holds true that differences of less than 3% may not be statistically significant and should be treated with caution. The yield data on the new Recommended List is presented as a three-year mean derived from a total of 24 trials in the three years (9 in 2013, 8 in 2014 and 7 in 2015). Yield figures are derived from plots with an average established population of 104,000 plants per hectare and yields are presented as relative percentage figures in comparison to the mean of five control varieties; Aimanta (not listed), Cayman, Lipizzan, Pasteur and SY Muse.

Sugar Beet Bolting

Drilling in the first two weeks of March, when conditions are favourable, has very often resulted in some of the biggest recorded yields, and the potential of the crop has been shown to fall by up to a tonne per hectare for every day drilling is delayed after the middle of March.  However, one of the drawbacks to this strategy is the very real risk of bolting if there is a protracted period of vernalising conditions after drilling.

As last year, the greatest differences on the Recommended List lie in the scale of bolting that can be anticipated from the varieties in both an “early drilled” and “normal sowing” situation.

For the flexibility to drill early, and certainly if you are intending to sow in the first two weeks of March, growers should use the “Early-sown” bolting figures to select varieties with a good record of low bolting from early sowings.

Bolters are unsightly and costly, both in terms of their control and their effect in the crop. Some growers, who take bolters seriously spent up to £200 /ha. last year controlling bolters in their crops. And, without good bolting resistance, growers can find themselves waiting too long to make a start on drilling and that is not a good situation.

Good bolting resistance gives you more flexibility at the start of the season. It is well established that the best yields can come from crops drilled in the first few weeks of March. Many growers want to have at least one variety in their selection which they can safely drill as soon as conditions allow without giving themselves a problem with masses of bolters.

Our varieties, Haydn and Pasteur, have consistently shown the lowest levels of bolting from both early and normal sowings, and this is one of the reasons for their enduring popularity.

The biggest differences on the Recommended List are in the levels of Early and Normal sown bolters. And worryingly the levels of both have been creeping up. Many are just unacceptable. Those deemed particularly unsuitable for earlier sowing are now flagged on the Recommended List with a # mark.

High levels of bolting from “Normal” sowing dates are, arguably, a greater source of aggravation and concern to many growers. These are the bolters that you could do without and don’t expect as they are unsightly and cost time and money.

In most seasons, for sowing after mid-March, the ratings from the “Normal sowings” column are applicable. On the new Recommended List, it will be found that just 6 of the 17 available varieties have produced less than then mean level of 40 bolters per hectare (a level at which we would expect to get complaints) in the last three years of trials (based on a field population of 100,000 plants/ha.). These varieties might be deemed acceptable. Zero bolters have been recorded in HAYDN in the last three years of trials sown at normal sowing times.

With good resistance to bolting, earlier sown crops can grow on strongly to achieve the early leaf cover which boosts sugar yields, without the unwanted work of pulling bolters in the summer months.

Sugar Beet Sugar Content

A further consideration might be sugar content. High sugar content gives the best opportunity for delivering a profitable crop. You are aiming to have as much sugar on every load leaving the farm and with a high sugar variety less land and less transport is needed to meet your quota.  A 0.1% increase in sugar content has been shown to translate into a 0.5% increase in returns. Both Haydn and Pasteur are well favoured for this characteristic.

Sugar Beet Establishment

After other factors, such as yield potential and bolters are taken into account, establishment is an important criterion for some growers. Establishment figures in the tables are presented as % of controls. Generally establishment is now so acceptable that it is nearly taken for granted. However, small differences do exist between Recommended varieties and for early sowings, and on fields with a record of low populations, varieties with higher levels should be chosen. All the Strube varieties – Haydn, Pasteur and Thor – are good in this respect.

Sugar Beet Breeder

The traditional advice is that risk can be further reduced by selecting varieties from a range of different breeders.

Many of the varieties on the new List with the highest sugar yields come from a single breeder. And, while they do appear to be very productive, though with higher bolting, purely in the interests of managing risk, it could be unwise to rely on these alone.

It has always made good sense to choose varieties, where possible, from a range of different breeders. There are currently four breeders supplying seed through five UK subsidiaries or agents, so again plenty of choice.

Other Selection Criteria

There are a couple of other criteria that are probably worth mentioning – one is price and the other is canopy.

The choice of variety and seed did not used to be price sensitive but, in these testing times, when there is increasing pressure on all input costs and margins, this should be looked at more closely, as there are some very significant differences between varieties.

Last year there was a 10.6% price difference between a variety like Pasteur (in Price Group 1) and the most expensive Rhizomania tolerant varieties in Group 4. Similarly, Haydn, in Price Group 2, was more than 6% cheaper than the varieties in Group 4, which it matched or outperformed in 2015 trials.

Likewise, last year, there was a difference of very nearly 15% between our strong, effective nematode-tolerant variety, Thor, and the most expensive new nematode tolerant varieties. The performance was the same and Thor is the only nematode tolerant variety that is suitable for early drilling.

So what about canopy?

A full canopy and good ground cover have just become even more important. We already know that a good, fast ground cover is important to intercept the sunshine that goes to make the best yields. And it has also been appreciated for some time that a good canopy can prevent the emergence of those annoying, late-germinating weeds, such as Fat Hen, that can make crops look so untidy – in some cases even saving the last spray.

In April this year, the only effective control for wheat bulb fly larvae (Chlorpyrifos) was withdrawn. If there is open ground between the rows in the sugar beet crop in July and August, as with some of the new very erect varieties, the wheat bulb fly can lay its eggs and this will detrimentally impact any following wheat crop. A full canopy, such as found in Haydn and particularly Pasteur prevents this.

Sugar Beet Seed Treatment

Always choose an effective seed treatment to give full and extended protection. The new neonicotinoid seed treatments work extraordinarily well and can give more than 12 weeks protection under most conditions. From very low levels of active ingredient per hectare (60g + 8g), they can give excellent control of a wide range of soil borne and foliar pests of the young sugar beet plant and are so much simpler than many passes with what are now largely ineffective sprays.

Sugar Beet Seed Quantity

Order enough seed to guarantee an established plant population in excess of 90,000 plants and aim for more than 100,000 plants/ha. A rate of 1.15-1.20 units/Ha optimal. Do not over-order the quantity of seed that you require as primed seed must be stored very carefully to avoid degradation over time. You are better to go and find a unit or two of additional seed than have seed resting in the back of a shed or store from one year to the next.

For a downloadable pdf of this article please click below:

Choosing Your Sugar Beet for 2017

Would you like any help in choosing your Sugar Beet Varieties for 2017?

If you would like help in choosing your sugar beet varieties for 2017 or would like to discuss any aspacts of your sugar beet crop, then please do not hesitate to contact the Strube UK team. Alternatively you can contact us by calling Richard at our Fakenham office on (01328) 851572 or by emailing him by clicking here