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Fertiliser secrets for successful sugar beet

June 6, 2013 by  
Filed under Crops

Good crop nutrition is vital for James Forrest, winner of the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s ‘Best Arable Crop’ award.

James Forrest has a specific approach to growing sugar beet. The family farming business RH Forrest & Co recently won the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s Best Arable Crop Award for a 40ha crop of Cayman grown at Clamp Farm, Stowmarket.Despite challenges during the winter months, sugar beet crops play a vital role in the farm’s rotation. “Our rotation has been designed to allow us to grow the crop one year in six, which is about right due the demands it places on the soil,” explains Mr Forrest.

When it comes to preparing land for sugar beet, Mr Forrest starts with chopping straw on the combine. He likes to leave stubble from the previous crop of winter wheat to green over. Some 600kg/ha of Sylvinite is applied just before ploughing in September or October as a cost-effective way of supplying the crop’s potash and salt requirements. It also complements the Limex and organic manures which are used on the farm.

“We have used various seedbed fertilisers over the years, purchased through AtlasFram, but eventually settled on Sylvinite because it ticks all the boxes in terms of what we want it to do. It is cost-effective and does such a good job that there’s never been any reason to change.”

Part of a range of sugar beet fertilisers formulated by Bunn Fertiliser, Sylvinite is a naturally-occurring ore containing 32% Na20 16% potash. A source of high-quality potassium and sodium, it is suitable for straight or blended application.

Potassium is an essential nutrient for plants and animals. A shortage in the soil will reduce the effectiveness of other nutrients and natural processes, as well as increase the risk of nitrogen loss. Plants such as sugar beet also respond well to a dressing of sodium.

In addition to sodium and potassium, Sylvinite contains important trace elements such as boron, calcium, magnesium and iron. In fact, it is agronomically balanced to meet the requirements for increased yield.

Sugar beet fertilisers from Bunn meet seven different cropping conditions. Each contains the optimum amount of raw materials to satisfy specific nutrients, taking into account soil type, previous cropping, manure applications and cereal rotations.

Following the Sylvinite, Mr Forrest applies glyphosate and then ploughs when primary cultivations for winter cereals are complete. Good soil structure is essential for growing good crops of sugar beet, he says.

“We have tried very hard to look after our soils to enable us to get the best out of what we produce. To achieve this it is imperative to operate the right type of machinery and have sufficient capacity so that the work can be completed when conditions are favourable.”

When it comes to drilling, Mr Forrest does not go by the calendar, saying he has absolutely no interest in forcing a seedbed. Experience has shown that patience always pays off on the farm’s heavy, mainly Hanslope and Beccles Series soils.

“The spring of 2012 was good for drilling sugar beet. The land had weathered well over winter and the weather in March was nice, which allowed us to create good seedbeds. It was the first year we worked on land ploughed with SCN bodies and after seeing the results I really felt we’d taken a big step forward in terms of seedbed quality”.

The field which won the Suffolk Agricultural Association Award was drilled on 26 March and pre-emergence sprays and fertiliser were applied as soon as possible. In addition to the 600kg/ha of Sylvinite which was ploughed down, a nitrogen-sulphur fertiliser was applied immediately after drilling and 150kg/ha of Ammonium Nitrate when the crop reached the two-leaf stage.

“The crop established well, but then the weather turned against us and some areas were slow in developing,” says Mr Forrest. Yields surpassed expectations – even though the crop was slow to get going due to the cold, wet conditions.

“It made up a lot of ground later in the season and at lifting I was pleasantly surprised by how well it had performed. The first lift produced 80t/ha, which was only a little down on 2011, as was the sugar content.”