Thursday, May 16, 2013

[biofuelwatch] Sugar beet 'mystery' condition halts 50% of some crops

Sugar beet 'mystery' condition halts 50% of some crops

Farmers are counting the cost of "mystery" symptoms affecting sugar beet crops across parts of England.

In some areas more than 50% of the beet, grown to be made in to refined sugar, has failed.
The British Beet Research Organisation said many varieties had been affected and growth was "erratic".
One farmer said he stood to lose about 1,800 tonnes, the equivalent of 250,000 bags of sugar, and a £50,000 loss.
Mark Stevens, the chief scientist at the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), said germinated seeds were "failing to emerge" or emerging "erratically".
'Extreme cases' The first reported case was on 29 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.
John Goodchild manages a farm at the Bartlow Estate in Cambridgeshire, and is also a member of the NFU Sugar Board, the industry body that represents all sugar beet growers in the UK and negotiates on their behalf with the single UK processor, British Sugar.
He said: "Significant numbers of seeds have failed to make it above the ground and we really don't know what's causing it.
"In extreme cases only about 35% of crops are coming through."
He has lost about 120 hectares (300 acres) of beet to the mystery condition, which he calculated would cost him £50,000.
"The strange thing is, not every field is affected," he said.
"I drilled fields on the same day, in the same weather conditions, using the same variety - some are fine, others not at all.
"When you're dealing with nature, things aren't always clear cut."
Mark Ireland, who farms sugar beet near Sleaford in Lincolnshire, said some of his crop had also been affected, but it was too early to say how much he might lose.
"From the farmers' point of view who are involved in this, it is very concerning and we want to get to the bottom of it," he said.
The BBRO investigation has so far found no indication of disease, nematodes (worms) or fungal infection.
The unusually cold and wet winter could be a factor, Mr Stevens said, and scientists were attempting to replicate those conditions in the laboratory.
A spokesman for NFU Sugar said it was working closely with the BBRO and British Sugar.
"Until we know the cause, it's too early to speculate on any effect on the sugar beet industry, but we are probably looking at a reduced yield."
The full extent of crop loss has yet to be calculated as the BBRO said information was still coming in from growers and agronomists using different types of seeds in different soils.



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