Complete: Maximizing deliveries of freshly-lifted beet throughout an extended harvesting campaign

Timescale: 2006 -2008
Project Lead: P Jarvis & G Milford
Project Sponsor: BBRO & BS

Project Summary

The UK sugar-beet industry needs to improve the cost-effectiveness of sugar production if it is to remain competitive within the new EU Sugar Regime. This may require radical changes to the way the crop is grown, harvested and delivered - especially changes that help the UK sugar industry to exploit its unique advantage of a long harvesting campaign which, providing there are no breakdowns, typically lasts for 160-170 days from mid September through to the end of February or early March.

Main Objectives

The yield and quality of beet are maximal when they are lifted from the ground, and deteriorate rapidly if the beet is stored1,2. About 40% of the national beet tonnage is currently delivered after Christmas, so maximising the proportion of this that is freshly lifted would considerably improve the economics of sugar production and processing in the UK. In recent mild winters, an increasing proportion of UK sugar beet grown on light soils and scheduled for late delivery has been left in the ground rather than lifted and stored on-farm and hence delivered fresh with little loss of yield or quality. At present, we have very little quantitative information on UK sugar-beet storage practices. To allow the practicality and economic benefits of maximising the deliveries of freshly-lifted beet to be quantified requires: (a) more information on the proportion of the crop that is currently stored on-farm and the length of storage on the different soil types; (b) some idea of the potential acreages of beet suited to infield storage in the different factory areas and how well they would fit with factory requirements for late delivery; and (c) predictions of the likelihood of January and February frosts to identify the regions of least risk for beet left in the ground. The primary aim of the project was to produce a cohesive database on UK beet storage practices from which strategies to maximise deliveries of freshly-lifted beet could be devised and implemented. Ultimately, we would need to ascertain how acceptable changes in delivery strategies would be to growers and fit into their farm operations and rotations. British Sugar plc’s requirements were to undertake a survey of current UK onfarm beet storage practices and the agronomic factors that determine them, to estimate the current scale of national sugar losses through storage, and to undertake an initial analysis of the benefits of increasing the proportion of freshlylifted beet in late-campaign deliveries. The Arable Crops Research Centre, Broom’s Barn was contracted to produce a frost-risk, land suitability map to indicate the most suitable areas for the in-field storage of late-delivered beet. In the event, Broom’s Barn considered this latter objective unattainable so this report relates only to the British Sugar component of the work.

Outcomes / Key Message For Growers And Industry

It is concluded that scope exists within the national pattern of beet lifting and storage for significant gains to be made from maximising the deliveries of freshlyharvested beet. This will, however, entail closer study of the logistics of beet production and delivery.

Please see report for all recommendations.

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We are set up jointly by British Sugar plc and the National Farmers' Union.

British Sugar
National Farmers' Union