Beet varieties switch to specialist types

For the first time traditional varieties of sugar beet took less than 50pc of the seed market.Plant breeder Richard Powell said that the rhizomania tolerant varieties had taken 50.

For the first time traditional varieties of sugar beet took less than 50pc of the seed market.

Plant breeder Richard Powell said that the rhizomania tolerant varieties had taken 50.2pc of the market for the current campaign.

"Rhizomania tolerant varieties have crossed the Rubicon and have more than 50pc of the UK market. They were introduced 12 years ago and they've improved massively since then.

"The early varieties had issues with disease resistance and sugar yield and they had the classic yield drag of a new trait. Now, there are some really very good rhizomania tolerant varieties."

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And breeders had also introduced varieties able to withstand other pests like beet cyst nematode. "Fiorenza, the first-ever BCN double tolerant variety, was introduced last year and took about 0.8pc of the market," said Mr Powell.

His company was market leader for the third year running and had achieved the best seed sales since 1997. "We are in a good position with three of the four most popular varieties," he added.

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The industry had been remarkably successful over the decade - in terms of breeding higher-yielding varieties but also more reliable and dependable seed too.

"Year by year as seed breeders we're slowly cutting our throats because we are going for a finite quota. If we produce varieties that get better two per cent a year, arguably we need two per cent less seed a year.

"If you look back 10 or 15 years, they needed another 100,000 units of seed to grow 80,000 ha of beet to produce the same amount of beet. That has been the improvement in the genetics.

Growers recognised that to get a good crop a minimum of 80,000 to 90,000 plants was needed across every single hectare. "The cheapest way to do that is to put a little bit more seed down. We've seen seed use move from 1.05 units to 1.09 units per hectare."

He said that the average establishment of varieties is 94pc. "It is a staggering figure. When I left college 30 years ago, that figure was probably 65pc.

"We've now got varieties with a four-year average establishment on fields of 96pc - that would be good as germination but as establishment is a real credit to the seed industry."

He said that there were now about 3,000 beet growers with a total of 4,000 contracts. The average contract was about 40ha and most had about three varieties while those with larger contracts might have about five varieties.

But while the industry was moving ahead, Mr Powell said that the average variety was probably only lasting about 2.5 years - a shorter time on the market than it was in trials.

Each year, there were about 110 new varieties and about 50 entered trials every year, which generally halved in each of the two following years. And about 12 varieties will be chosen for inclusion in the Recommended List, he said, and this year five new varieties were accepted.

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