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Top sugar beet yields but West Norfolk farmers fear for next crop

British Sugar, Beet factory at Wissington
British Sugar, Beet factory at Wissington

While West Norfolk sugar beet farmers have been celebrating one of their best ever yields this year, concern is growing for the future of the next crop.

Prolonged periods of heavy rain and the cool temperatures experienced in recent weeks are preventing some farmers from sowing seed so far this spring.

One farmer, Nick Martin, who farms 70 acres of sugar beet at Bexwell, has said the delay is becoming more worrying as time continues to pass without getting seeds into the soil.

He said: “We have seen significant rainfall in recent weeks and most farmers are pulling their hair out as we can’t get out there and get on. I usually like to get my seed in by March 20, but at the moment it’s still sitting in boxes. There’s no way we can get onto the land because it’s too wet. We need a run of several nice, dry days before we can even think about it.

“At the moment it’s frustrating, but from now on it’s getting more worrying. If the weather comes just right, then the crop will be able to make up. We need the weather to warm up as the land temperature is quite cool.”

In contrast, last year the weather conditions were favourable and his farm saw one of the best three crops it has had, with the beet becoming established early on.

His crop is taken to Wissington, where the 2017-18 campaign drew to a close just before Easter. The factory, the largest sugar beet factory in the world, is one of four operated by British Sugar, which collectively saw 8.9 million tonnes of beet processed giving an average yield of 83.4 tonnes per hectare of beet. This compares to a previous record of 79.8.

The increases have been driven through the work of the British Beet Research Organisation, jointly funded by British Sugar and sugar beet growers which has played a key role in improving productivity. The result has been an increase in yields of 25 per cent in the last ten years and this year many growers have seen yields of over 100 tonnes per hectare.

Paul Kenward, managing director of British Sugar said: “This has been a long and challenging campaign for growers, our supply chain and our four factories. I am hugely proud of the record yields we’ve seen from homegrown sugar beet.”


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