Learning from the Beet Yield Competition - Darryl Shailes - Arable Farming

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Cereals has been and gone; it was good to catch up with lots of people and it was interesting that I was asked more about my garden and the house move than sugar beet or potatoes.  But as one of my colleagues is always telling me, my writing is more like an episode of The Archers than a technical column so maybe it is to be expected.

We have an open gardens event in the village so, a bit like for Open Farm Sunday, we have been working hard to make everything look at its best.  There is an old saying in the village ‘Don’t worry when the water comes up as what comes up goes down’, and since Easter when the garden was flooded the water has indeed gone down and everything is growing and I hope looking really well, we’ll find out.

But it is amazing how these old sayings keep coming back and how true they are.  One of my customers told me a few years ago that his grandfather told him ‘Well sown is half grown’, and I’ve mentioned it before, but it really is true.

The first awards ceremony for the Beet Yield Competition was held at Cereals on the NFU stand and the four area winners all had a few things in common.  The first was that their winning fields on average all achieved 110,000 beet plants per hectare.  This is above the 80,000-100,000 target plant population and really demonstrates truth in the old saying.  The attention to the detail in getting this level of establishment is fantastic, especially considering the difficult spring of 2017. 

All the fields in the competition, now re-named the Beet Yield Challenge to better reflect its purpose, had drones flown over them at the end of May and June, and the more evenly established fields showed up on these images.  It was possible to see that drone images can then be utilised to shop up areas of good and bad establishment and adjustments can be made to try and improve them next time around. Recording these images in precision farming software such as Omnia means they don't get lost in the huge amount of information we all have and, equipment permitting, means seed rates can be automatically adjusted to try and achieve these plant populations the next time around.

These high plant populations then enabled early ground cover and allowed the crop to capture the maximum amount of sunlight around the longest day 21 June, to turn into sugar. That brings to mind another old saying I was told when I first joined the industry many years ago, 'Down the row by the Suffolk Show and across the row by the Norfolk Show', and it was no accident that the drone flights were timed to coincide with these dates.

The overall winner was due to be announced at the Norfolk Show, but congratulations to the four regional winners.

Hutton Periods

On the potato front, apart from the lateness of some plantings, in early June we had a consecutive run of six or seven Hutton Periods. For the first time I can remember these blight warnings covered nearly all of the country, the hot and dry weather has since calmed things down, but interestingly AHDB Horticulture reported that Phytophthora infestans was affecting tomato plants much earlier than in previous years and was not being controlled by the traditional chemistry.

These strains of blight have since been identified as EU 39 A1. It just shows how blight continues to develop and how we must be on our guard when weather conditions are favourable to the disease

One final thing, it is our Fenland Potato Demo day on 11 July, again kindly hosted by A.L. Lee. I hope to see you there.