As part of our regular catch-ups with leading sugar beet growers, we spoke to local branch NFU Chairman, Ed Lankfer. We asked Ed about how last year had worked out for him, how the 2019 beet season has started, which sugar beet seeds he’s chosen this time and how he sees the future for the industry in this Brexit year.
How did last season turn out for you - was it a good year for you?.
It was a slightly below average year, to be honest. We got 45 tonnes per hectare on the first lift and this rose to 75 tonnes on the last lift. The weather meant that we sowed late in a wet seedbed, then the ‘Beast From The East’ blew in, then we had a prolonged hot, dry summer and as a result things never really got going as we would have liked.
How is this season going - have you completed drilling? Any problems?
Yes, we’ve finished drilling, which is good. The decent weather has helped and we’ve had great seed beds, so we shall see…
Which sugar beet varieties have you gone for this year?
What made you choose those varieties?
Gauguin owing to its beet cyst nematode (BCN) resistance as we have a nematode from South Africa issue – this is a test to see if it can handle it. Degas as it’s good all-rounder and consistent in terms of yield and sugar levels which is what you want, and Haydn as we know it will perform well for us.
Why are you sticking with sugar beet?
You have to grow something! It also spreads our workload and it helps with black grass which is a problem for us. I do have concerns over the soil structure owing to the heavy machinery involved in lifting, but it remains a good break crop.
Some growers have turned away, haven’t they?
Yes, in years like last year – a marginal one – it can be hard to make money and it’s a high input crop so there is a risk. I pay around £200 a hectare to have it lifted, fertiliser £200, seed £200 and herbicides £500. So, when I’m selling it at £22.50 per tonne the margins are tight.
What’s the market been like - was the end of quotas a major change?
Yes; natural supply and demand kicked in and there’s been a lot more supply and there’s talk of a return of the EU sugar mountains which won’t help anyone. Over time I’m sure it will balance out, but we always knew it would be a challenging period.
Has Brexit been a factor in your business generally?
Yes, though not on the sugar side. I want to invest and upgrade my infrastructure and the uncertainty isn’t helping
Do you see EU support being replaced post Brexit?
Support will clearly disappear and that will hit cashflow hard. There’s a possibility that the environmental subsidies will help us out, but with EU support continuing to member states’ growers, we could miss out and be less competitive in the market place. Trade deals with non-EU-nations are all well and good, but I don’t want to see chlorinated chicken from the US, beef fed on hormones from South America or more cheap lamb from New Zealand as they are keeping the Dollar low. The government needs to support farming.
Do you see yourself sticking with beet over the long-term?
I have to grow something. I need to be competitive and profitable and spread my workload and keep on top of black grass, so beet works for me. Rape used to be a good alternative, but since we lost neonicotinoid treatments flea beetle has become an issue with that.
Any predictions for the future of the industry? Do you see it as having a long-term future?
If we can deal with the aphids and a resistance with the virus – so if we can breed in resistance – then yes, I believe it has a future as long as there’s a market for sugar.
Thanks, Ed, informative as ever.
If you’d like to be one of our sugar beet grower interviewees, then please get in touch. You can call Mark on 07850 369773 or email him by clicking here.