Farming Column with Sam Walton

Sugar beet, and also fodder beet, make great break crops.
Sugar beet, and also fodder beet, make great break crops.

I remember when we had 12 sugar beet factories, including one in Scotland, all working flat out. Then some do-gooder decided that we needed to cut production to allow sugar cane growers more access to our markets and over half our factories closed.

I have not been involved in growing sugar beet since 1969 and I am fairly sure that the price then was around £20 per tonne, depending on sugar content.

Black grass seeds would not survive controlled burning. Perhaps a percentage of the farm could be treated each year.

Black grass seeds would not survive controlled burning. Perhaps a percentage of the farm could be treated each year.

I noticed last week that the British Sugar Corporation had just issued their new contract which was for £22 per ton and were looking for extra growers.

With inflation the way it has gone, is £22 enough or has the yield almost doubled as with cereals? As we are supposed to be cutting down on sugar consumption, I did wonder why they would want more producers.

Does that mean sugar cane is not doing the job? One thing I do know is that sugar beet and also fodder beet make good break crops.

I can just remember before precision drilling arrived with us, as prior to that it meant a gang of men with hoes, singling out the plants.

Precision drills dropped one seed at the correct distance and at the same time band spraying was introduced which killed weeds in the actual row between the plants.

Then all we had to do was to pass through the crop with a scruffier between the rows to keep the weeds down.

It was a revolution.

There has been much talk recently about the re-introduction of stubble burning, something I have been thinking about for several years with the appearance of black grass.

I think this year I have seen more crops than ever smothered with that, taking over from wild oats which are not the nuisance now they once were and should be easily rogued.

I think it would be a good move forward for farming if we were allowed a percentage of the farm each year to be treated in that way with proper controlled burning.

Black grass seeds would not survive that and goodness knows how long it will be before a really effective spray will be available at any price, let alone a justifiable one!

Because we were stopped from doing stubble burning, we are now having to use more spays than ever for other things which would have also been kept under control.

I had every sympathy with the Lincolnshire farmer on the radio recently who said if we are not allowed to burn again, cereal and pulse crops will cease to exist and arable farming will be the worse for it.

I know we need to care for the environment but we also need to feed an ever increasing population and whether you believe it or not, cheap imports will not be available for ever and particularly if our industry goes to the wall.

Of course one of the problems we have is that the UK dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s and we have an ever increasing round of red tape.

Just pop across to France to see how many things are ignored.

I admire them.