Complete: Agronomic strategies and the economics of organic beet production

Timescale: 2000 - 2004
Project Lead: Dr Cormack, P Jarvis and P Ecclestone
Project Sponsor: ADAS, British Sugar and BBRO

Project Summary

Arable cropping has been shown to be economically and technically viable under organic management (Cormack, 1999). However, in the late 1990s, despite strong growth, the market for organic arable crops was limited to cereals, pulses and potatoes. Sugar beet was then, and remains, a major part of the rotation of many Eastern counties arable farms.

Main Objectives

The lack of a market for organic sugar beet was seen as a key constraint to organic conversion. The production of sugar from organically-grown beet would also allow British Sugar plc to meet their market demand for organic sugar and organic animal feeds from home-grown sources and so replace imports and help protect the UK share of the EU sugar quota. 

Little work has been done or published on organic sugar beet production. Swedish work indicated that sugar yields of over 9 t/ha are possible (Larsson, 1999). The first UK organically grown commercial sugar beet crops were harvested in 2001. To gain information on how best to manage these crops, a programme of experiments was funded by the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO). The objectives of the work were to identify challenges for organic beet production on different soil types in the UK and develop initial agronomic strategies to meet these challenges.


Outcomes / Key Message For Growers And Industry

Weed control by tractor and hand hoeing, and rogueing gave satisfactory results at all apart from three sites where low fertility, drought and an organic soil with high weed pressure gave particular problems. At all bar two sites, the cost of weed control was similar to, or less than, the cost in a non-organic crop. The aim must be zero or minimal hand weeding.

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

British Sugar
National Farmers' Union