Beet yields coupld 120-tonne mark, says top plant breeder

Michael Pollitt, agricultural editorBeet yields have risen sharply over past years, but there is much more to come, said a top plant breeder.After record yields last campaign, Richard Powell, Syngenta's UK crop manager for Hilleshog, predicted an even brighter future.Michael Pollitt, agricultural editor

Beet yields have risen sharply over past years, but there is much more to come, said a top plant breeder.

After record yields last campaign, Richard Powell, Syngenta's UK crop manager for Hilleshog, predicted an even brighter future.

Norfolk's farmers grow more than a third of the national crop, which is processed at the world's biggest beet refinery at Wsisington, nearDownham Market.

"Last year the UK hit 72 tonnes and only five years ago, it was set as a target. Many people scoffed and said that it could never be done but many growers have demonstrated what is truly possible," he said.


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Mr Powell, who has been involved with the crop for 30 years, told an industry briefing at British Sugar's Holmewood Hall, near Peterborough, that average yields keep increasing.

"I believe that we can go on to see yields much more regularly of 80, 90 or 100 tonnes per hectare. We can push on towards 110 tonnes and 120 tonnes within five to 10 years."

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With an exciting pipeline of new varieties, he said that the yield potential was there. "The promise from sugar beet is unlike any other crops which have already hit glass ceilings. Our yield just keeps on going up.

"Breeders are not standing still. We are looking to do everything that the grower needs to get a solution to their issues now. We need increased disease tolerance and they're in the pipeline and they're pretty close. Growers want enhanced reliability of performance."

Mr Powell added: "I believe that because British Sugar is probably, if not undeniably, the most efficient processor in Europe, then after 2014 and the potential deregulation (of Europe's sugar regime), it will be a winner in sugar beet production.

"We could see more beet being grown in the next 10 to 15 years. And if you add to that the success of biofuels and biethanol, we are hardly even scratching the surface of biogas production as they are in Germany."

Mr Powell said that the Hilleshog stable of varieties, which had better resistance to bolting, would enable growers to drill earlier.

"We have a suit of varieties historically, and we have this remarkable root shape which can make a difference to dirt and crown tare of up to 40 and 50pc."

As growers started to appreciate the threat from pests including best cyst nematode, he said that the latest introduction, Sentinel, offered an affordable solution.

"We're marketing it as a competitive and I hope compelling value offer to make it worthwhile for people to try the variety and assess its worth. I think they will be pleasantly surprised."

It is also the last year that conventional varieties can be entered for trials officially. "In the next three or four years, we will see a move to the market being all rhizo-tolerant," said Mr Powell.

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