Build the foun­da­tions for a suc­cess­ful sug­ar beet har­vest with the sug­ar beet sowing 

Today, around 1.5 mil­lion hectares of sug­ar beet is being grown in the Euro­pean Union. Pro­duc­tion is pri­mar­i­ly con­cen­trat­ed in three coun­tries: France, with 423,000 ha of cul­ti­va­tion area in 2020, Ger­many, with 386,000 ha, and Poland, with 238,000 ha. Out of the total crop yield of an esti­mat­ed 110 mil­lion tons – with an aver­age yield of 73.4 t/ha – France cul­ti­vat­ed the largest quan­ti­ty, with almost 36 mil­lion tons of sug­ar beet, with Ger­many just behind with around 30 mil­lion tons and then Poland with rough­ly 14.3 mil­lion tons.

Crop yield is sub­ject to increas­ing­ly large fluc­tu­a­tions. Weath­er con­di­tions play a major role here. Recent drought years have been par­tial­ly respon­si­ble for the notice­able decrease in crop cul­ti­va­tion. Over­all we have seen a drop in sug­ar beet cul­ti­va­tion areas and a decrease in the num­ber of sug­ar fac­to­ries in oper­a­tion. In 1993, there were 328 sug­ar fac­to­ries in the EU 27 in oper­a­tion. Today, there are just 100 left. Often sug­ar beet cul­ti­va­tion is only con­sid­ered eco­nom­i­cal if it is done with­in a 100 km radius around a sug­ar factory.

How­ev­er: in many regions, sug­ar beet is still an impor­tant crop. It breaks up crop rota­tions that have a heavy empha­sis on grains and as a sum­mer crop it pro­vides space for the cul­ti­va­tion of catch crops to improve soil con­di­tions and fight against pests. How­ev­er, the crop also needs a lot of atten­tion: its require­ments with regards to the seed bed, sow­ing con­di­tions and crop man­age­ment are considerable.

Sow­ing sug­ar beet – influ­ence the crop yield with the sowing

Opti­mal sow­ing con­di­tions build the foun­da­tions for a suc­cess­ful sea­son that is fin­ished off with a prof­itable and good-qual­i­ty har­vest. Close atten­tion must be paid to the fol­low­ing points for the sowing:

Seed bed prepa­ra­tion: The aim is to pre­pare a favourable envi­ron­ment with opti­mal soil com­paction. It should be flat but deep enough to be ploughed by a trac­tor. Care must be tak­en to ensure a suf­fi­cient recom­pact­ing of the seed bed, it should not be too fine. The rule is: seed bed before sow­ing time.

Sow­ing date: As ear­ly as pos­si­ble, as late as nec­es­sary. Here you need to use your instincts. Sug­ar beet is usu­al­ly sown between mid-March and mid-April, but care must be tak­en in regions with a risk of late frost. An impor­tant cri­te­ria for the sow­ing date is the soil tem­per­a­ture, as ger­mi­na­tion can take place at 5 – 6 °C but the opti­mal tem­per­a­ture is between 10 and 12 °C.

Check your tools: You must check your tools before start­ing to sow your sug­ar beet. Ploughshares, rotary feed­ers, trail­ers and pres­sure rollers must all be checked. Attri­tion and wear can reduce the tools’ functionality.

Seed place­ment: An opti­mal plant pop­u­la­tion is between 80,000 and 100,000 plants/ha. For this, around 110,000 seeds need to be plant­ed with a dis­tance between rows of 45 or 50 cm and a dis­tance between the plants in the row of 18 to 22 cm. The opti­mal plant­i­ng depth is 1.5 to 2.5 cm. This depends on the seed bed prepa­ra­tion as the seeds must lie on a sol­id sub­soil with con­nec­tion to cap­il­lary water.

Sec­tion-spe­cif­ic sow­ing: This is done through the vari­a­tion of seed spac­ing in the row. The adjust­ment of the seed­ing rate to the dif­fer­ent yield poten­tials of the soil makes it pos­si­ble to achieve high­er yields in spe­cif­ic sec­tions and increas­es efficiency.

Mouse infes­ta­tions: If you are con­cerned about a seri­ous mouse infes­ta­tion, then ensur­ing an opti­mal sug­ar beet sow­ing is par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant. Mice only like the seedling at cer­tain stages of growth. Once the plant has “grown through” this stage, it is no longer inter­est­ing for the rodents. It is also a good idea to imple­ment dis­trac­tion feed­ing in the field or in spe­cif­ic sections.

Decid­ing when to plough the soil: If your plant pop­u­la­tion is unsat­is­fac­to­ry, first the cor­rect crop den­si­ty must be deter­mined. If there are still over 45,000 plants/ha, then you should avoid plough­ing the soil. Even with low­er num­bers of plants, the fol­low­ing applies: if the beets are dis­trib­uted even­ly, then low­er crop den­si­ties can also be tol­er­at­ed. Plough­ing the soil is rec­om­mend­ed when you have less than 40,000 plants/ha. It should be done quick­ly so that you do not lose even more grow­ing time.

Beet clamp during the sugar beet harvest

How can the quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of sug­ar beet yields be increased? 

With an open-air pro­duc­tion, many dif­fer­ent fac­tors influ­ence the yield and qual­i­ty of the crops and not all of these can be con­trolled by the farmer. This is why it is all the more impor­tant to secure the fac­tors that can be influ­enced in the best way pos­si­ble. With sug­ar beet, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that ensur­ing opti­mal yields depends on two fac­tors: the weight and the per­cent­age of sug­ar in the beets. This com­bi­na­tion gives the sug­ar yield per hectare. As such, both of these fac­tors must be tak­en into account when man­ag­ing the crop.

For high yields, the prin­ci­ples of cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques – such as suf­fi­cient spac­ing – as well as a time­ly and per­fect­ly pre­pared sow­ing, tak­ing into account the infor­ma­tion above, is impor­tant. Bal­anced plant nutri­tion also plays a promi­nent role, as a wide range of macro and micro-nutri­ents are need­ed for good growth. Fer­til­i­sa­tion is even more impor­tant because it large­ly deter­mines the com­po­si­tion of the ingre­di­ents. The high­er the con­cen­tra­tion of sucrose and the low­er the con­t­a­m­i­na­tion with amino acids, potas­si­um and sodi­um, for exam­ple, all of which reduce the amount of extractable sug­ar, the bet­ter the qual­i­ty of the beets. Here the use of nitro­gen fer­tilis­er pos­es a bit of a dilem­ma as lots of nitro­gen can increase the yield, but it also reduces the sucrose con­tent and increas­es impu­ri­ties in the beet sap. As such, only just enough nitro­gen should be used so that an opti­mal ratio of yield to sug­ar con­tent is ensured.

How­ev­er, the farmer has the great­est influ­ence on yields and beet qual­i­ty before even plant­i­ng the crop, as they choose the vari­ety to cul­ti­vate. Half of the yield increas­es – yields lev­els have climbed by more than a third since 1993 – are due to improve­ments in breeding!

Last but not least, it is impor­tant to remem­ber that you can only pro­duce high yields and high-qual­i­ty beets if the plants are healthy. Breed­ing has also helped us to make big leaps for­ward in this area, as today numer­ous vari­eties with sin­gle or mul­ti­ple resis­tance to harm­ful pathogens are avail­able. In addi­tion, mon­i­tor­ing pro­grammes and advi­so­ry plat­forms can help you to imple­ment an inte­grat­ed plant pro­tec­tion plan.

All these fac­tors help to ensure that the future yields and prof­itabil­i­ty of the crop are secured and that the sug­ar beet retains its title as “Queen of the Crops”.

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