OMEX Suspension helping to boost sugar beet yields
Tailoring nutrients to suit specific fields is the key to sugar beet yields rising annually for Norfolk grower Mark Fletcher of Manor Farm, Houghton St Giles.
The 300 acre tenancy and 300 acres of rented land plus various contract farming arrangements including drilling 750 acres of sugar beet locally is run jointly with a neighbour as part of a joint venture.
Mr Fletcher’s aim is to expand the sugar beet operation having first started growing 75 acres on rented land.
“Sugar beet will become a specialist crop to grow, in the same way potatoes and vegetable crop have,” he says. “Attention to detail is the key to boosting profitability, especially tailoring nutrients on a field by field basis. We treat all rented fields in the same way as we treat our own. And as long as there is still a profit to be made we will continue to expand our operation.”
The farm’s variable soils range from blowing sand to chalk loam, which are historically low in phosphate and potash. Soil magnesium levels are also low. Cattle manure has been applied in the past to boost our soils nutrient levels.
“Much of the rented land has grown nutrient hungry roots such as carrots. Our sugar beet five year yield average is 85t/ha but we plan for an annual yield increase of 1% through attention to detail and better nutrient planning. Early lifted sugar beet yielded about 80t/ha when it would normally be nearer 70t/ha, so we know that the land is capable of it.
“Also our new drill has auto-shut off so there is no more overlapping on scoots and headlands. In the past we always had quite a lot of small beet growing in the field which would bring our average yield down.”
Mr Fletcher applies granular fertiliser blends to his land but on all the rented land he employs the services of OMEX Agriculture. He says that granular blends are much slower to breakdown, and if the ground is dry they just stay in the soil unutilised. By comparison OMEX suspension fertiliser is much more readily available with faster uptake, so he does not want to be leaving nutrients in the fields after having lifting the crop and vacated.
“We can only apply granular fertiliser to 12m where as the suspension fertiliser can be accurately applied at 36m and right up to the field margins, which follows cross compliance regulations. Being able to apply wider widths also means fewer tramlines and less compaction, which of course landlords prefer.
“OMEX fertiliser can be delivered in split compartment road tankers, which enables smaller fields to still be treated individually as long as they are delivered with other requirements. Bulk Blends would have to be delivered in larger quantities, which is expensive and still need storing,” he explains.
A further advantage of the OMEX system on rented land according to Mr Fletcher is that fields can often be 15 miles away, which would present a logistical nightmare if trying to get farm equipment and workforce to the field.
“We think using suspension fertiliser plus application is better value for money than buying in blends and applying them ourselves, but the biggest gain from using liquid and solution fertilisers is in the application cost and logistics plus convenience.”
He adds that fertiliser blends are applied in the autumn and are ploughed down followed by two nitrogen applications in the spring about two weeks apart. Most of the suspensions are applied in the spring by a local and dedicated contractor followed by nitrogen top dressing.
“We took on some rented land in the spring of 2017 and had we applied a fertiliser blend I think we would have been caught out later on. Expansion of our contracting business encouraged us to switch to the delivered and spread service offered by OMEX. This has helped to take out most of the workload pressure in the spring,” says Mr Fletcher.
“Our next objective is to try the slow release nitrogen product Didin applied with the base fertiliser, which would take out a pass and free up valuable labour at a busy time of year.”