Norfolk leads field in beet seed progress

A new generation of beet seed treatments under development in Norfolk could transform crop growth and development.

In the past four years, worldwide seed technology giant Germains has invested about �11m, mostly at the group's base on the Hardwick industrial estate at King's Lynn.

Germains employs a total of 190 staff, according to business unit director Neil Fyfe.

'We have a very significant business across the globe in horticulture as well,' he added. 'We have manufacturing facilities in the USA, including California and Fargo, in North Dakota, in the Red River Valley, where we have a very large sugar beet treatment facility.

'We have facilities in Spain, Netherlands and Poland on the horticultural side. Our main UK hub and our corporate hub for sugar beet is based in Lynn.

'As a business, we're 50:50 sugar beet/horticulture but very much focused in terms of the market in establishing new products.'

Mr Fyfe has worked in the sugar industry for the past 12 years, including three years in Beijing, in China, where Germains has a sales office.

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He said Germains, founded in 1871 and acquired by ABF in 1990, was a world leader in beet seed.

'We've treated more than one million units of sugar beet seed; probably 50pc is full seed treatment package and 50pc with priming technologies as well.

'In the UK in the last three years, Germains has invested very heavily in making sure that we have a sustainable long-term and high- technology seed offer,' added Mr Fyfe.

He said the market in England was about 130,000 units, each of 100,000 seeds for each hectare.

Colleague Eric Paterson said various exciting developments were moving ahead rapidly, ultimately to the good of beet growers.

The success of XBeet, a third- generation primed seed product, had been enormous. 'We are also looking at how we develop the pipeline going forward and how we develop the next wave of products which will supersede XBeet,' he said.

'Our research and development is focused on our priming technology, in which we have real expertise,' said Dr Paterson, the research and development manager.

'We're looking at what else can we deliver: what can we deliver perhaps in the pellet or the seed coating of the pellet to help the grower go forward.

'We already do that in some ways. If you look at crop protection materials which we add, some will have 10 to 12 weeks benefit.

'If we can do that with fertilisers and nutrients as well, that always gives the grower an opportunity to plant and forget for the first 10 to 12 weeks of growth.'

Germains says it is investing heavily in a trials programme covering about 38 acres, some of them north of Peterborough on a site with a range of soil types.

'We've got four times the amount of field trials in the UK than we've had in the past,' said Dr Paterson.