UK/East Anglia: Cold weather played ‘significant role’ in sugar beet root problems, say scientists

David Black and Son’s Sugar beet farm in Stowmarket is producing fangy beets that split and form add

David Black and Sons Sugar beet farm in Stowmarket is producing fangy beets that split and form additional tendrils. - Credit: Archant

Cold weather during the sugar beet sowing period this year played “a significant role” in triggering problems with the plants, scientists say.

The British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), based in Norwich, has published an interim review of widely-reported emergence, or germination and early growth problems, with the crop following a detailed and independent study of what went wrong and why. Some of its work remains inconclusive and it is awaiting the outcome of work in Germany and other laboratories.

“Overall, the BBRO believe that the 2013 emergence issues have been caused by a number of interacting factors, but the prevailing weather during the sowing period has played a significant role in triggering these problems,”it said.

Farmers across East Anglia, an important area for beet production, as well as other parts of Europe, reported a series of difficulties, including slow germination and early growth, roots growing in a crooked or corkscrew fashion and later, ‘fangy’ roots.

The BBRO, which based its studies around samples and comments received from growers, agronomists and British Sugar area managers, concentrated on seed lots where issues were identified via the British Sugar complaints process.

In line with an agreement between the National Farmers’ Union and the company, all 2013 commercial seed supplied to growers were processed by Germains. The firm steeped the seeds in liquid and coated them to produce Xbeet plus. Of about 22 varieties used, BBRO’s Dr Mark Stevens said problems were reported with about 10 and it had chosen three varieties of the 22 to test. These were tested raw, and with the coating, to see if there were any differences.

It was disappointing scientifically that there was no industrially-produced Xbeet from the 2013 season to compare the Xbeet plus seeds to, BBRO said.

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BBRO’s studies are ongoing, but scientists did find differences in the number of abnormalities depending on seed type, when the temperature was lowered. They also found a marked difference in one seed sample provided by a farmer, which had double the abnormalities of a similar seed sample from Germains, suggesting variations in performance even within one variety.