Harvesting quality is one of the principal themes that will be addressed by this pillar of BBRO activity over the coming years.
We have seen significant improvement in the proportion of the crop recovered by harvesters over the last 20 years with harvester losses decreasing from around 9% to closer to 2.5% over that period. The causes of harvester losses are multi-factorial, and it is not something which can be levelled at harvester contractors only. Successful crop recovery starts with achieving a uniform, weed free crop, grown on level seedbeds, with good disease control, careful harvesting, storage, loading and delivery - i.e. it is directly influenced by all stages of the sugar beet crop production cycle.
Harvester losses have plateaued in recent years and we now need to push again to drive for further improvement in this area. We will be working with all industry stakeholders including machinery manufacturers, growers and contractors to understand what the limiting factors are in reducing levels of losses, and then providing technical and practical support to help devise an action plan to address those issues.
BBRO will apply previous knowledge known about crop harvesting, storage and delivery to support industry initiatives as well as direct training, demonstration and the promotion of best practice. Other harvesting-related work will involve research looking at the measurement of beet damage through the harvesting and handling process.
Over recent years much work has been undertaken into beet storage, both here in the UK and across Europe. At this time, further research into storage techniques is not viewed as a priority and instead our focus will be to ensure appropriate storage strategies and techniques are being consistently employed.
If crop recovery is to be maximised, then crop harvesting and delivery must be managed to ensure the storage period is optimised. The UK industry currently has few metrics to be able to manage this effectively and we will be working closely with growers and the processor to help bring greater clarity to this area of crop production.
Of course, we recognise that the two biggest factors affecting sugar loss in storage are the duration of thermal time of stored beet and the quality of beet going into that store. In addition, excessive dirt leads to poor ventilation through beet clamps and consequently higher sugar losses. It also represents a significant inefficiency, and cost, to the industry through additional haulage requirements and downstream processing cost at factories. Therefore, we will be examining the factors affecting dirt tare and developing approaches which will allow it to be more effectively managed.
The technological quality of sugar beet also alters as the season progresses and particularly through the harvesting and storage phase of the crop production cycle. This process sees sucrose converted into other sugars and as such represents both a loss of paid yield to the growers and an increase in processing costs at the factory, and these other sugars also create processing issues. BBRO will be working to develop a capability to measure these non-sucrose elements of beet quality to provide the opportunity to identify the causes behind the changes in the technological quality and address those factors to the benefit of the growers and the processor.