Thursday, May 23, 2019

Tolerance tested in sugar beet trials

November 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Crops

HOSTING sugar beet trials on some of his worst land helped Norfolk grower Andy Thornton combat beet cyst nematode (BCN).

After three years testing a range of varieties on his Shropham farm, Mr Thornton says he is finally getting to grips with a problem that first emerged when he noticed beet yields were being restricted in the early 2000s.

Despite a switch to Rhizomania resistant types, the matter came to a head in 2008 when one field yielded a disappointing 37t/ha and the whole farm was 500t short on quota.

“The tonnage just wasn’t there, even on the best land,” explains Mr Thornton.  But it wasn’t until he sampled his worst field mid-season that a severe beet cyst nematode (BCN) problem was confirmed.

“Beet is cropped every third year on the farm, some seasons following a vegetable crop such as carrots or parsnips or salad potatoes.  This is quite a tight rotation – but not unusual in the area – and it probably hasn’t helped.”

Mr Thornton was one of the first to trial a range of tolerant varieties on his farm. There are some clear differences between types in their ability to withstand high levels of the pest, he suggests.

“In our view, Annouschka KWS is clearly a step up over Sentinel,” he says. While Sentinel is less expensive, based on our evidence and on our soils it doesn’t provide the same level of protection against the pest.”

Perhaps the best indication of this came in independent trials on the farm in 2010, comparing nine coded and commercially available types. “Sited on one of our worst fields, Annouschka stood out, with the top trial yield.”

Having first grown the variety in 2009, Annouschka unsurprisingly featured strongly in Mr Thornton’s plantings in 2010 – particularly on some of the worst affected land. The variety’s green leaf retention proved to be a surprise bonus.

Backed by two fungicides, the extra, more erect leaf acted as a blanket and protected the crop from the worst of the winter frost.  “We had to top hard, but it wasn’t as badly affected as other varieties on the farm.

Looking ahead, Mr Thornton reckons that growing Annouschka KWS on the farm will provide a more consistent yield, year in year out.  Aiming for higher yields has enabled him to cut back the beet area, freeing up land for other crops.

“As the levels of beet cyst nematode built up in our soils, we were down at 42t/ha – now we are aiming for 62t/ha. We need the best BCN tolerant material to achieve this and help maximise margins across the farm.”

British Sugar says growers with high levels of BCN in soils who wish to switch varieties prior to drilling next year’s crop should contact their area manager.

PICTURE: Norfolk grower Andy Thornton with sugar beet varieties Anoushka KWS (left) and Sentinel (right).

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