Norfolk should be home to national beet collection
16:29 24 May 2013
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012
A nationally-important collection of sugar beet seed could be given a home in Norfolk where the modern industry was launched more than a century ago.
The Norwich Research Park was already home to the national collection of cereal, pea and bean seed, said Colin MacEwan, chief executive of the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO).
He said that a collection of more than 600 varieties had been accumulated over the years and that it was an important national genetic resource, which should be safeguarded for the future.
“It is really important that this national collection is secure and managed,” said Mr MacEwan.
“The seed store at the John Innes Centre was a model of how to manage and sustain a genetic resource,” he added.
Mr MacEwan suggested that it would make sense for the seed stock to be managed at Colney, where there were the skills and expertise available.
Further, the BBRO has opened a new laboratory at the InnovationCentre, which is headed by lead scientist Dr Mark Stevens and colleague Dr Gillian Champion.
“This is a living resource which could help to provide new material for plant breeders in the future,” said Mr MacEwan, who hoped that it could be moved from Rothamsted in Hertfordshire and given a new permanent home.
“I’d suggest Norwich would be the ideal home,” he added.
The seed collection had been augmented by accessions from Germany, largely in the early 1990s. Although there are several other collections around the world, Britain’s beet seed has particular relevance because it is based on northern European maritime material.
Mr MacEwan said that the key to maintaining viable seed was a programme of growing and then harvesting seed. However, it took at least 18 months to plant and then harvest seed to replenish the stock, he added.
The modern beet industry dates from 1912 when the Cantley beet sugar factory was built.
Although the factory had some initial difficulties for the first two campaigns, partly caused by lack of supply and unwillingness of farmers to grow the crop, it evolved into a significant producer of home-grown sugar from 1923.
At the four BBRO open days, a total of 1,350 growers with more than half the total acreage attended. At Thorney, near Peterborough, a total of 450 visited. The Newark factory open day at Goole had 220, 294 were at Carleton St Peter and 386 at Ingham, near Bury St Edmunds.