As with many growers this season, #Beet150 entrant Tony Pointer has endured a difficult and protracted drilling period that has seen him finish drilling later than ever before. In most years he would hope to finish drilling by the end of March, but due to the late winter and wet start to spring that followed drilling didn’t start until 6th April. More rain meant drilling stopped almost as soon as it started, and he was unable to resume it for almost two weeks.
A period of good weather followed, and drilling continued for eight days until rain again forced a temporary halt to proceedings on 26th April. A break in the weather ensured drilling was eventually completed on 8th May. A task that usually takes around two weeks took a little over a month, but, perhaps more significantly, it is the impact on yield potential and the practical challenges of managing crops with such wide-ranging growth stages that worries him more.
With 175 hectares of beet needed to meet a contract of 12,000 tonnes he is working off an assumed average yield of 80t/ha. This is up slightly on the previous base average of 75t/ha due in part to a desire to reduce the amount of out-of-contract beet produced and because recent seasons have seen the farm significantly out-perform the forecast average.
In the 2017-18 season he recorded an average yield of 99.7t/ha. This is a figure he admits was both satisfying and tantalisingly frustrating.
“Across 175ha of crop on sandy loam soils, some of which was affected by drought, last year’s average yield was impressive, but it would have been great to make 100t/ha. This figure is yet to be adjusted for dirt tares, so we may still achieve it,” he says.
Farming roughly 980 ha around Dunton, near Fakenham in north Norfolk, the focus of the arable enterprise is cereal seed production, from pre-basic through to C1. For this reason, weed control is taken seriously across the farm.
Much of the land however, is managed under several contract farming arrangements and, because of past practices, carries a high population of polygonum weeds. Keeping these under control brings challenges of its own which has been further exacerbated by the late season. This means herbicides are being applied at a time when daytime temperatures are often higher than is preferable and the young crop can be susceptible to being scorched when herbicides are applied.
“We manage the risk partly by spraying in the early morning when its cooler which reduces the risk of damaging the crop, but also by always ensuring that the first post-emergence herbicide is one that has a good crop safety profile. This means using Betanal maxxPro (desmedipham + ethofumesate + lenacil + phenmedipham) because its crop safety means we don’t check growth and it gives effective control of a broad spectrum of weeds,” he says. This is sometimes mixed with Goltix 70 SC (metamitron) for residual control and with clopyralid where volunteer potatoes are present.
While the objective is always to achieve full weed control wherever possible it must be managed within the confines of the budget. “Weed control is not so important it has to be achieved at any cost. There is a balance between what is necessary to restrict competition and the potential for yield loss with what is considered a reasonable spend. In my situation, this means achieving the desired control within a total chemical spend of no more than £75/ha excluding fungicides,” he says.
Nutrient control is another aspect of crop management where great control must be exercised. Up until 2007 he had a 600-sow multiplication herd of outdoor pigs. While this is no longer the case, the lost muck has been replaced with chicken manure.
“The pigs mean our phosphate index is high, but I have concerns over availability which need investigating while there is still much to learn about how we manage chicken manure in the field. Where it has been heaped before being spread there is clear evidence that the high concentration of nitrate in the soil has been too much for the emerging sugar beet. In future we may choose to apply it elsewhere in rotation to avoid this issue,” says Mr Pointer.
Watch our video of Paul Drinkwater and Edward Hagues discussing the herbicide trial and the lessons it provided.
The 2018-19 sugar beet crop will follow a record crop and with growers keen to push further for yield, Edward Hagues and Roger Bradbury of the Bayer roots technical team have compiled a list of six steps to maximising performance.