UK/Suffolk/Essex: Mystery symptoms hitting some sugar beet crops

A sugar beet crop

A sugar beet crop

Scientists are looking into mystery symptoms which are affecting sugar beet crops across parts of England. In some cases, up to 40 to 60% of the crop is affected.

A healthy sugar beet crop

A healthy sugar beet crop

Scientists are looking into mystery symptoms which are affecting sugar beet crops across parts of England. In some cases, up to 40 to 60% of the crop is affected.

Dr Mark Stevens is looking at the problems affecting this year's sugar beet crop

Dr Mark Stevens is looking at the problems affecting this year's sugar beet crop

The British Beet Research Organisation said many varieties had been hit and growth was “erratic”.

Mark Stevens, lead scientist at the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), said germinated seeds were “failing to emerge” or emerging “erratically”.

He said the BBRO was looking at the possibility that a number of factors have combined this year, chief among them challenging weather conditions, to create a certain set of symptoms. They were also looking at the seeds, and seed treatments, to see whether a pattern could be found he said.


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Most puzzling of all was the apparent erratic nature of success and failure of the crops, said Mr Stevens, who is based at Norwich.

“It’s bizarre. You can look at one field on the same day with the same variety and it’s fine, and another field which is not,” he said.

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“We have seen the problem in at least six varieties, if not more, but sugar beet is quite a complex seed.”

The BBRO is currently designing different experiments to look at the problem.

The first reported case was in April, but since then farmers in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire and Essex have been affected.

“We’re seeing some very strange and mysterious symptoms including roots corkscrewing, and deformed plants,” Mr Stevens said.

“Where you would expect to see about 100,000 plants per hectare, we’re seeing some areas with 40,000 to 60,000 - and sometimes considerably fewer.”

The cause of the problem is being investigated, but the BBRO said about six varieties of sugar beet had been affected, so it was unlikely to be an issue with a single seed supplier.

A spokesman for the East Anglian office of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said they were helping to get the message out to farmers to report any problems so that evidence can be collected and evaluated.

“Reports are coming in that there are problems and the BBRO says it’s looking at a whole range of factors that appear to be involved,” he said.

If any farmers do experience issues with their crop, they should register that with their British Sugar fieldsman, he added.

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