Sugar beet

Danish farmer, Hans Henrik Nielsen, is quite satisfied after the first few days of beet harvesting

After a disappointing cereals and oilseed rape harvest, it was gratifying for Hans Henrik Nielsen to harvest the first field of the sugar beet variety Fairway. The yield was just above 13 tons of sugar per hectare, according to the preliminary results from the sugar factory in Nakskov.

- An absolutely satisfactory start, says Hans Henrik Nielsen – about the first 18 ha of beet lifted at his tenant farm ‘Søllestedgaard’. 

- When I am out there, I can see the potentials for big growth in the remaining season. Typically, we gain an extra three tons during autumn. This will take us to 16 tons, compared to my 5-year average of 15.1 tons. Quite satisfactory – and much needed after the poor results for my other crops.

Hans Henrik Nielsen owns ’Rosenbjerg’ with 350 ha of farmland and leases a similar area at ‘Søllestedgaard’. He grows 135 ha of sugar beet. At the rest of the land, he grows winter wheat, spring barley, winter oilseed rape, red fescue grass, and white clover, of which only the white clover has yielded at a reasonable level. The dry growing season has been especially hard on spring barley and winter oilseed rape.

Easy topping

- From we sowed the beet and until mid-June, we had 12 mm of rain. Afterwards we have had more rain, but only to the benefit of the sugar beet. The other crops had already ripened, Hans Henrik Nielsen explains.

On the other hand, the beet are stuck in the dry soil, and I had to run full powers on the harvester in order to lift them, even though the 18 ha are relatively light soil. It is an advantage, though, that the beet are extremely clean.

- Fairway, which we harvested first, sits high in the ground and has a centrally placed node, which makes topping rather easy. And we get the entire beet out of the ground, tip and all, says Hans Henrik Nielsen.

The rows were closing fast

This field was the last to be sowed, on April 11, and it was the first to be harvested, around September 20. But according to Hans Henrik Nielsen it is not very different from the other fields sowed from March 23 and forward.

- Fairway emerged quickly, and closed the rows to weeds very fast. So four normal weed treatments have been enough. It is my first time with Fairway, and it has been a pleasant acquaintance. I chose it because it yields well on soils without nematodes. Its bolting tendency and leaf cover have also influenced my choice.

Expected higher sugar percentage

Hans Henrik Nielsen does not mind harvesting the beet before they have reached their full size. He would rather do it in September than in February. Now he can avoid structure injuries in the beet, and finishing early enables him to do good sowing of the wheat. 

- Because of the early harvest, I only had to apply one fungicide treatment. But during lifting, I could see beginning attacks of mildew and rust, he says.

 All things considered, Hans Henrik Nielsen is quite satisfied with the beginning of the beet harvest.

 - 17.4% sugar and 75 tons of clean beet per ha is okay, considering the conditions of this season. The 75 tons may reach 100 on the later fields. But I am a bit surprised that the sugar percentage is not higher. And so are my neighbors. Given the warm autumn and the many hours of sunshine I had expected more. Some years we have had 19-20%, and I had actually expected the same this year.

Stays with the beet

As from next year, the era of beet quota is over, and Hans Henrik Nielsen has considered attractive alternatives to the sugar beet.

- It could have been winter oilseed rape, but then look how this year has given such bad results. I just have to realize once more that the beet have stable yields and have managed surprisingly well. So I continue with the same beet area, but I will evaluate the situation every year. It also matters that I have invested in a lot of equipment and that the beet fit well into the other activities on the farm, from a seasonal and workload point of view. The beet harvester I own together with a partner, and I have two carriages especially designed for beet transportation. Therefore, beet is not a crop that you can just opt in and out of. Financially it has always been our main crop, and this year will be the same – due also to the low cereal prices.

In order to minimize the risk of nematodes Hans Henrik Nielsen prefers a beet rotation of at least four years. The yields are unmistakably higher when the rotation is longer. And he consequently uses catch crops in nematode infested fields.