Monday, May 20, 2019

Variety selection key to maximising sugar beet performance

May 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Crops

Last season’s record sugar beet harvest was partly due to seed breeders raising the crop’s potential and performance – but it was also due to beet’s adaptability.

This year, the crop has gone in late and careful management is needed. The nature of sugar beet means crops will grow away but reach maturity later than normal – so don’t expect plants to meet in the row by the Royal Norfolk Show.

Late drilling also means more pressure from pests and diseases, which in turn means more attention to detail in managing the crop. Be sure to monitor crops regularly and be prepared to adapt management techniques and spray regimes.

But while the crop races to make up for lost time at drilling, growers will soon have to consider the 2019 crop. Variety selection is important. Robust and consistent performance under UK conditions remain paramount when selecting a variety.

SESVanderHave operates an extensive UK trials network and research directed to key UK issues – including bolting, nematodes and diseases. Anticipating these issues is crucial because it takes up to 10 years to breed a new variety then three years to produce seed.

Early sowing and bolting

While the opportunities to drill early this year were few, doing so would have gained 6-8 weeks growth – building yield. “The objective remains to drill as early as possible when conditions permit,” says Richard Robinson, SESVanderHave’s UK research and development manager.

The risk of bolting caused by both cold and stressful conditions can be significantly reduced by selecting varieties with lower early sown bolting scores. Varieties with higher early sown bolting scores are unsuitable for early drilling due to the higher risk, he says.

“Choose Bloodhound, Firefly, Cayman, Jura, Gauguin and Haydn. The average bolting scores for all these varieties have been below 4,000 per hectare over the past three years. That is half the level of bolting seen in other varieties.

“Bolting is an extremely complex but critical trait for UK growers to get to grips with,” says Mr Robinson. The BBRO Recommended List provides the most recent three years’ results for bolting in trials sown before 5 March.

When looking to select new varieties, it is important to look at each year’s early bolting scores for individual varieties. That’s because some years – such as 2017 – were very mild and only low levels of bolting occurred.

“As we see with increasing frequency there is no such thing as a normal spring – so we must deliver varieties that have the robustness to cope with whatever the UK throws at them.”

Seed rates

Correct variety choice is a critical step on the path to optimum returns. But plant population will have an important effect and gappy crops are the grower’s enemy. Plants grow to fill the gaps resulting in increased root breakage and over-topping at harvest. It will also slow lifting.

“With this in mind the aim should be to establish a minimum population of 110,000plants/ha hectare. This is achieved with a sowing rate of 120,000seeds/ha.  Field losses can be 10-20% but this level has benefited from neonicotinoid seed treatments.

“You therefore need to adapt your seed rates to your fields and conditions. In 2018, we increased some seed rates to 140,000 to deliver a consistent stand due to wet patches in some fields.”

In the UK, SESVanderHave tests varieties in all the main beet growing areas using over 28,000 trial plots each year. This ensures varieties supplied for UK production are exhaustively tried and tested under the conditions facing our growers.

Beet cyst nematode

Beet cyst nematode is an increasing threat to production in some areas and rotations. Fortunately, these threats can be minimised by using varieties such as Aurora and Jura which have BCN tolerance. Early drilling can ensure the crop is well established before peak cyst hatch.

BCN tolerance is delivered by a combination of traits so the plant can tolerate damage inflicted. Yields are now comparable to standard rhizomania tolerant varieties thus providing a safeguard against the pest. There are also potentials benefits when sown in BCN-free areas.

Virus Yellows

Once one of the main threats to sugar beet production, control of virus yellows was improved considerably thanks to neonicotinoid seed treatments which improved establishment and reduced the need for foliar sprays. This may change.

Despite this year’s late sown crop, much of it will be protected from virus-carrying aphids because 98% of UK seed is treated with neonicotinoids. But the impact of the virus, in practical terms, without neonicotinoids, is unclear.

It will vary and build over successive seasons depending on overwinter survival and spread of virus carrying aphids. Regardless of future use of such treatments, good practical management can help mitigate the risks.

Sowing early, in cooler conditions (3-5oC), will help crops establish and reach maturity ahead of pests developing. To reduce the transfer of virus and aphids from one season to the next, growers should remove any “green bridge” during winter from clamps or adjacent fodder crops.

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