Sugar Beet Drilling

We drilled our sugar beet last week.  We are growing just under 100 acres this year because British Sugar, our only customer, has guaranteed the price of our whole crop, not just the contracted tonnage. Normally we would prepare the seedbed with two passes of a simple harrow. This year because we have had virtually no frost over the winter the land is hard and cloddy with no light, crumbly frost mould and on the heavier land we have needed two passes with slower and more expensive power harrows, see video.  This will be a recurring theme throughout the spring and of course we can expect earlier infestations of insect pests.

Sugar beet has been an extra-ordinary success in recent years. Our average yield over the last ten years has been 89 tonnes per hectare and that includes the disastrous 2010/11 crop that was partially destroyed by frost. This is a staggering 50 per cent increase on our average yield in the nineties. I would of course like to say that this is a result of increased expertise at Jack Buck’s but in fact it is almost entirely due to improved breeding of varieties capturing more sunlight although better fungicides have played a part. Can this trend continue? Probably not, I think we will approach a yield plateau as we have with many broad acre crops. And that is a pity because the world price of sugar has been in decline for the last three years and the European price is about fifty percent above the world price, dominated of course by sugar cane, the most widely grown crop in the world.

In 2017 our crop will no longer be protected by tariffs and export subsidies, will we still be growing? I hope so because we aim to be at the top end of yields on our excellent land and there are other customers emerging for energy production in anaerobic digestion plants, which is, of course, subsidised and that is a whole new topic…..