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Sugar Beet Review 2019

Suagr Beet Field Small

Well, the factories have finally finished processing the 2018/19 crop with Newark closing its gates week commencing 18th March. Bury and Cantley both finished processing in the second week of February whilst Wissington finished the first week of March.

2018: A Challenging Year

Average yield looks like being around 70 tonnes per hectare which is probably far better than we could have imagined in the hot and dry summer of 2018. A mild autumn and winter allowed the crop to continue growing whilst it remained in the ground. Higher than average sugar contents of approximately 18% and lower dirt tares helped us achieve this adjusted yield. There were as always significant variations in crop yields both between farms and between fields and yields ranged from 35 to 120 tonnes per hectare.

Looking back on 2018, it was a very challenging year in more ways than one for sugar beet growers. A difficult start to the spring of 2018 included the ‘Beast from the East’ giving snow, ice and freezing temperatures in early March. This resulted in wet field conditions as snow melted which led to delaying drilling by 3 or 4 weeks giving an average drilling date of around 24th April, this is probably one of the latest on record in recent years.

However, once the crop was drilled the weather changed to a prolonged warm and very dry late spring and summer. Daily temperatures averaged 1 – 2 C higher than average from late April to August with very little rainfall. The crop received around 140% of average sunshine in May, June and July, but as little as 24% of the average rainfall fell in some of those months.

As a result of the hot dry summer factory opening dates were pushed back a week or two in some cases to allow the crop to continue growing. Lifting conditions were challenging in the early campaign weeks due to the dry summer months which made early beet supply to factories difficult in some areas.

Neonicotinoid Seed Treatment Ban

The other major change to the UK crop was announced on 27th April 2018 with the decision to ban neonicotinoid seed treatments in the EU for 2019 plantings. They have been one of the key crop protection products used on the sugar beet crop. Despite the best efforts of BBRO, British Sugar and NFU Sugar the decision could not be overturned and the fight was also lost to get an emergency derogation for 2019, despite this been granted in several other EU member states.

This meant that the 2019 UK crop will be the first crop that has not been protected by neonicotinoid seed treatments for 25 years. One of the biggest threats to the UK crop which the neonicotinoids controlled exceptionally well is Virus Yellows, this disease could reduce yields by up to 50%.

There are no other treatments equivalent to neonicotinoids for the broad spectrum of pests that they controlled. Up until very recently there was only one alternative foliar insecticide flocicamid (Teppeki), for the control of virus-carrying aphids in sugar beet in the UK. However, the UK has just successfully received an emergency authorisation for the use of two applications of thiacloprid (Biscaya). This will now give growers up to three sprays to control aphids, these treatments must only be applied at the recognised threshold of one green wingless aphid per four plants before the 12-leaf stage. Vigilance will be required to regularly check crops for presence of aphids as timing of insecticide sprays will be critical.

The 2019 Virus Yellows forecast is high following the mild 2018/19 winter so good crop hygiene and regular monitoring are required over the coming months.

The 2019 Sugar Beet Season

Looking forward to 2019, the drilling season started probably one of the earliest dates ever with commercial crops starting to be drilled from around the 20th February onwards. The UK recorded the warmest February on record with daytime temperatures reaching over 20°c on some days. The dry winter meant that soil conditions were ideal, soil temperatures were unseasonably high at between 7°c and 8°c in late February so many growers made a start to planting their 2019 crop.

After a short lull in early March, drilling commenced again with the highest proportion of the UK crop been drilled in the last 2 weeks of March and the 1st week of April. This will give an average drilling date for the crop some 3 to 4 week earlier than 2018 with virtually all of the UK crop being drilled by early April.

Beet planted in February has now emerged well and even beet planted in March is emerging in as little as 13 days. As previously mentioned regular aphid monitoring is now very important, growers need to watch out for the BBRO bulletins, aphids are expected to start flying in the coming weeks.

Looking forward, on the 1st May the new 2020 BBRO/BSPB Sugar Beet Recommended List will also be released. We are looking forward to seeing what’s made the list this year and we shall report on it once the list has been made public.

Here’s to a vintage year for sugar beet in 2019!

Mark Culloden Managing Director Strube UK

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