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Growers are being urged to remain vigilant and continue adapting sugar beet spray programmes where necessary after the soggy spring delayed drilling. Delayed drilling compresses spring spray programmes

• Most beet not drilled until April

• Crops a month behind in areas

• Be flexible and tweak approach

Growers are being urged to remain vigilant and continue adapting sugar beet spray programmes where necessary after the soggy spring delayed drilling.

The wettest March for 40 years saw much beet drilled well into April on all but the lightest land. Growers should tweak control strategies for weeds and diseases accordingly, say crop protection specialists.

Met Office figures suggest the main sugar beet growing area experienced 200% of its average rainfall during March and above-average rainfall in April. This left land saturated with little opportunity for it to dry out.

The BBRO estimates that 70% of the UK sugar beet crop was drilled up to 25 April. Very little was drilled in March, it said, leaving the bulk of the UK crop being drilled up to a month later than average.

Cambridgeshire-based farmer and contractor Tom Jackson, of WR Jackson & Son, delayed sugar beet drilling until late April. “As soon as we felt the land was finally ready, we drilled 240ha of sugar beet in six days,” he added.

“The seed beds were fantastic and we had good establishment. One advantage of drilling later is that emergence is much quicker because of the warmer soil temperatures. But we have lost a month, so the crop may never quite compensate.”

Speaking early last month, Mr Jackson said: “We have not yet put a herbicide on. The priority will be a graminicide on the cover crops sown on the black land as they are now getting quite big.

“Our sprayer has been busy catching up with wheat T1s, and winter barley T2s will be next on the list. I expect we will make fewer herbicide applications this year because of the later drilling. We will start as soon as the weeds are ready.”

Warmer soil temperatures and sunnier days over more recent weeks have seen grass and broadleaf weeds emerging quickly. But the weather has meant decent spray days are few and far between, so early weed control has been challenging.

Problem weeds

UPL sugar beet technical specialist Antonia Walker said growers who applied pre-emergence herbicide Bettix Flo (metamitron) and Oblix 500 (ethofumesate) would have some flexibility on timings for follow-up post-emergence herbicides.”

Programmes should be built around the three key actives for post-emergence broadleaf weed control: ethofumesate, metamitron and phenmedipham. “Rates can be adjusted to reflect the size species of the weeds present,” says Ms Walker.

This will be especially important with the later drilled crops and disrupted spray programmes this spring.

“The BRRO offers excellent guidance on the relative efficacy of each active against common broadleaf weeds in their 2023 sugar beet reference book. We have found this approach to deliver the most cost-effective herbicide programme for sugar beet.”

Growers should consult stewardship guidelines before using Centurion Max (clethodim) for post-emergence control. This includes observes the no-spray period and sot spraying any herbicide five days before application – or 14 days afterwards.