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Local trials bring benefits when it comes to sugar beet, says Ian Munnery Data is key to maintain sugar beet profitability

Local trials bring benefits when it comes to sugar beet, says Ian Munnery

Sugar beet remains an important crop – and little wonder because it has demonstrated huge resilience, whatever nature throws at it, and remained profitable. 

As one of the world’s largest sugar beet breeders, our challenge as SESVanderHave is to anticipate the needs of our local breeding programmes over the next decade while considering the reliability of seasonal and regional data to make short term decisions on production and sales.

We are constantly anticipating longer term trends – assessing how we can bring innovative traits from world-wide research into our genetics for specific countries, but also adapting our trial programmes to make valid assessments locally.

As a business, we continue to invest heavily in local trials here in the UK.

Traditionally, like many plant breeders in the UK, we consolidated selection trials on larger, fewer sites safe in the knowledge that climate was not too extreme and we had a full crop protection arsenal to protect gainst most weeds, pests and diseases.

But more extreme climate events – often very localised – and the loss of chemistry mean it is evident that bigger sites are no longer necessarily better. In fact, basing selection on a three- year average alone could be unsound.

This volatility makes it vital that we review regional data in depth rather than just averaging data across all sites and multiple years. It’s why cereals and oilseed growers look at diverse regional data too.

The contrast in regional performance is becoming clearer. The climate on the coastal fringe, for example, tends to be more stable than further inland.

This explains why the Cantley area in Norfolk and the Pas de Calais in France suffered far less virus yellows in 2020, while growers around Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk suffered more than most with beet moth in 2022.

Against this background, we have significantly increased the number of our trials across the UK sugar beet area. Every site is monitored with our own weather stations and soil moisture probes – as well as drone and satellite observations.

Our most important asset remains our trials teams, who between them have over 120 years experience of variety assessment.

We also operate our mobile tarehouse – the only one in the UK. It means we can instantly weigh and determine the sugar content of every beet variety as it is harvested and before we even leave the plot.

Sugar analysis

Accuracy is vastly improved compared to just 10 years ago thanks to GPS self-steering on our drill, hoe and harvester. But while near infrared spectroscopy has many benefits to accelerate sugar analysis and reduce costs, it cannot accurately record impurities.

Few growers worry about impurities, but they affect processing efficiency. Impurities also provide a good proxy to determine stress on a variety or site – something we use to improve varietal selection.

When reviewing performance of our genetics, we factor in all our trial and laboratory data – from both raw seed and our own blue SV pellet, which is produced to optimise the performance of every seed lot.

Evaluating around 30,000 plots of 100 beet in the UK each year for several decades means we can identify and optimally process our varieties to deliver resilience and durability to UK growers.

This is why so many of our varieties – like Wren, Adder and Tawny – endure. It enables UK growers to fine tune their management to our varieties and treatments as well as to their land and climate.

Yield increase

With Osprey, the only new conventional variety recommended by the BBRO this year, it highlights the significant increase in yield with the added benefit of increased resilience to AYPR rhizomania.

Looking ahead, we’re very much anticipating the arrival of our next exciting wave of genetics which show a massive leap in performance in our own trials over the pastdecade, delivering robust performance and excellent establishment.

Broader, more robust performance is key to reliable sugar beet production.

We focus strongly on commercial practice, which is why we don’t gap any of our commercial trials. This ensures we  are assessing each variety’s true performance not the result of carefully ‘gardened’ plants.

Ian Munnery is general manager of SESVanderHave UK. For more information, see