Tailored nutrition can rescue this season’s backward sugar beet, says agronomist

Spraying sugar beet.
Picture Tim Scrivener

Spraying sugar beet. Picture Tim Scrivener - Credit: Tim Scrivener

East Anglia's sugar beet may benefit from extra micro-nutrients this season after an excessively dry spring left many crops stressed during their establishment period.

ProCam agronomist Ian Jackson

ProCam agronomist Ian Jackson - Credit: ProCam

That is the advice from Ian Jackson, who advises farmers in Norfolk and north Cambridgeshire for agronomy firm ProCam.

He said a tailored application of nutrients to the plants' leaves into the summer months should pay dividends by helping to bring backward crops back to full health.

'During the dry period plants will have struggled to draw up soil nutrients, creating the risk of deficiency,' he said. 'Rainfall has been welcome in May and early June and will now result in rapid growth, but this creates a challenge, as the rate of uptake from the soil may not be sufficient to match plant development.

'Applying essential nutrients as foliar treatments will reduce the risks of deficiencies and ensure crops develop the required green leaf area that is so important to future yield potential.'

Trace elements including boron, manganese, zinc and magnesium are most commonly a limiting factor for sugar beet, but Mr Jackson recommends a tailored approach to any nutrient programme to ensure investment is made where it is going to be most beneficial.

'There's no substitute for looking at the crop and taking account of factors like previous cropping and soil type,' he said. 'Ideally you want to be anticipating potential problems and taking preventative action rather than waiting until deficiency symptoms are visible. If you can see signs of deficiency, some damage has already been done.'

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Mr Jackson said nutrients can be applied as part of a herbicide spray programme but, if those applications are already complete, growers should consider stand-alone foliar applications or even applying micro-nutrients with their fungicides in July.

'We are changing the way we look at sugar beet, not least because we are now often seeing a longer growing season with crops continuing to put on tonnage as late as November and even December,' he said.

'This means we need to look after the plant for longer, to maintain that green leaf area and ensure we are maximising the potential. It's possible to achieve 100 tonnes/ha from sugar beet, but only with the right attention to detail.'