Optimism for beet crops as region's sugar harvest gets under way

Nick Morris, head of central agriculture for British Sugar

Nick Morris, head of central agriculture for British Sugar - Credit: British Sugar

Hopes are high for this year's beet harvest as East Anglia's farmers deliver their first crops into the region's sugar factories.

The processing plants at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and Wissington in west Norfolk have steamed into life, with Cantley on the River Yare due to be the last to open on October 12.

British Sugar said the factories are seeing above-average yields from the first beet crops, and a good sugar content of around 17pc, typical for this early part of the campaign.

Nick Morris, the firm's head of central agriculture, said there were also "negligible" levels of virus yellows disease which had decimated previous years' crops.

"The early signs from the campaign so far are really encouraging," he said. "We are expecting a crop that is going to be above-average in terms of its yield performance.

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"There is still a lot to be determined, and the amount of growth in the crop between now and Christmas will be influenced by the weather.

"What we need from now on is everything we have got now - mild temperatures throughout the autumn, some sunshine and intermittent rain is everything the crop needs.

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"The canopy is remarkably clean. The crop is full of health and vigour, with very, very low levels of virus yellows and foliar disease."

Earlier this year, an emergency authorisation for beet growers to use banned neonicotinoid pesticides to control virus-carrying aphids was withdrawn after scientific modelling showed the level of threat to the 2021 crop had fallen below the agreed "trigger threshold".

"The science has worked fantastically well for us - there is negligible virus yellows in the crop, which shows the predictive model was right, and demonstrates the value of a cautious and proportionate approach to pest control," said Mr Morris.

He added there have so far been no serious impacts from the HGV driver shortage which has affected many of the nation's supply chains.

"We are seeing some impact from that," he said. "It is difficult to say yet what level of impact there is.

"There are many factors at play. There is the issue of fuel availability and the knock-on effect of a delayed cereal harvest in moving grain around.

"In terms of delivery availability I don't think we have yet seen a huge amount of disruption, but there is still a large part of the campaign to go."

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