Once ground and weather conditions improve, growers will be keen to complete cultivations and begin drilling. For some, there will be parcels of wet ground to consider. Perhaps inevitably this will prompt questions over how much soil damage growers should attempt to remedy now at the expense of delayed drilling. Ensuring good crop emergence and even establishment is fundamental to optimising weed and disease control.
We talked to Stephen Aldis, head of operations at BBRO, to get his four top tips for successfully establishing a crop of sugar beet.
It has been a wet winter in parts, and although soils are drying out, the likelihood of achieving an optimal seed bed will depend on whether your beet crop is following cereals or vegetables.
Decisions will need to be taken on whether to try to relieve some damage and compaction now, or to try to achieve a reasonable but not perfect seed bed to get the crop drilled and away. Attempting heavy remedial operations when soils are still wet at depth won’t achieve ideal results, so compromises may have to be made.
The past few years of wet winters followed by very dry springs have demonstrated that getting the crop drilled in good time, is more desirable than achieving perfect soil conditions. So, aim to achieve a level, friable seed bed down to 3 or 5 cm, while retaining moisture to aid germination.
The aim at drilling should be to achieve even crop emergence to deliver target plant populations of 100,000 plants per hectare drilled. Growth stage consistency across the crop will help with virus yellows management and weed control timings.
Setting the drill up to place the seed in moist layer of soil is key. The depth to target will depend on the cultivations that have been carried out, and the soil type, but will be within a range of two to three centimetres. In drier conditions it is possible to drill at increased depth, up to five centimetres, but with this comes increased risk of uneven or poor emergence.
The depth setting on the coulter and the pressure applied by each unit, are both important in ensuring that seed is placed at the right depth. Soil conditions will vary within fields and between fields, so check behind the drill regularly to ensure the seed is being placed correctly, and adjust settings accordingly.
Spacing is similarly important, and row widths must be matched to the harvester. For 50 cm row widths, aim for 15 to 18 cm between plants, and for 45 cm rows, aim for 17 to 20 cm. Check your five-year average on plant populations, and aim for an average of 1.2 units/ha within a range of 1.1 to 1.35 units/ha. Higher seed rates may be desirable in poor seedbed conditions.
If you have an electric drive drill, variable seed rates can help to ensure optimal establishment across varying soil types.
Any issues with poor seed spacing will be obvious during early stages of establishment, so check early drilled fields, and make any adjustments necessary to before drilling later ones.
Sub-optimal seed bed preparation may result in large clods which will impede even germination and affect good crop establishment.
Rolling after drilling can be a benefit, to aid soil to seed contact, but it can also have negative outcomes. If you have achieved a good friable soil to drill into, rolling after drilling can push larger clods into that microclimate, impeding germination and establishment even if it looks better visually. Where possible, use clod pushers or row cleaners instead, to remove some of the dry soil out of the rows.
With seed still being delivered onto farm, growers need to ensure they know which varieties can be drilled early, and which must wait until after 15th March, to enable some drilling to get underway.
Consult the Recommended List to check the data for early sown and normal sown bolters, and which varieties are suitable for drilling before 15th March.
Good crop establishment is key to early weed control
The first post-emergence herbicide sprays are critical to remove early competing weeds and aid crop establishment, but spray timings are reliant on crop and weed growth stage. Uneven crop establishment will make all herbicide applications more challenging with plants at different stages, potentially resulting in sub-optimal performance.
Betanal Tandem (phenmedipham + ethofumesate) offers excellent crop safety and controls a wide range of broad-leaved weeds. Used post-emergence it acts mainly as a contact herbicide but in moist soils will also provide residual control of some later germinating weeds.
The first post-emergence application of Betanal Tandem should be made when the majority of crop plats have reached the fully-expanded cotyledon stage, and the earliest germinating weeds should not be larger than the fully-expanded cotyledon stage. Further Betanal Tandem applications can be made once each new flush of weeds reaches the cotyledon stage.
Sugar beet is highly responsive to good agronomy. Effective crop protection, especially against weeds and foliar diseases, is a significant contributor to yield and profitability. At Bayer we are focused on providing solutions to all the crop protection issues threatening the crop be they weeds, pests or disease.