Beet yields: 100 tonnes rendement
Thanks to valuable and effective new farm management tools, the French sugar beet sector is one of the most efficient in the world. Researchers and producers have increased the development of the beet yields and sugar processing plants, while enhancing environmental protection.
There are three reasons for this level of efficiency: climate, selection of beet varieties and farming techniques. Beet growing is highly sensitive to new developments. The ITB (French Industrial Beet Technical Institute) has developed a “growth model”, Previbet, that enables growers to simulate the daily growth rate of a plant based on meterological data.
This model was applied to the years 1990-2006, and the results reveal a clear correlation between a warmer, more humid climate during a suitable period, and accelerated plant growth. Overall, throughout this period, the climate was favourable and contributed to higher yields.
Beet varieties are closely monitored to turn climate conditions, soil properties and the fight against bio-aggressors to best account. This year, more than thirty beet varieties have been monitored as part of a trial network and ranked according to performance.
This selection scheme has led to the development of varieties better adapted to climate change and disease, offering farmers the future “best sellers”. The commercial lifespan of each variety - three to five years - is fairly short. Developments in diseases and the desire to limit the use of fungicides have led to the permanent development of new varieties.
These efforts focused in particular on varieties most resistant to Rhizomania - a major virus affecting beet crops. They are now centered on beet nematodes or black scurf and the search for an optimal balance between productivity and sustainable development.
Selection methods are still conventional, while benefiting from advances in molecular and genomic marking. The current trend is towards genetic diversity: the development of varieties resistant to a given disease and destined for a specific geographic area means that plants are capable of resisting several diseases at the same time.
Increasingly specialised farming practices
The use of inputs has dropped constantly due to the more effective integration of uses and an increase in yields. Whereas thirty years ago, more than a kilo of the active substance of plant protection products was used to produce a tonne of sugar, only 300 g is required now.
Doses of mineral nitrogen per hectare have fallen by 30%; phosphate or potassium-enriched fertilizers have followed the same trend. The use of insecticides have also been integrated. Irrigation remains stable, despite periods of drought, with surfaces benefiting from water input representing just 11% of the total surface.
Naturally fertilizing the earth
The recycling of organic fertilizer is also increasingly common, whether it relates to effluent from livestock, straw from previous harvests or residues from the production of sugar and alcohol (slime, vinasse).
Every effort is made to ensure seedlings develop under optimal conditions. For three years, the widespread use of seed activation -a seed priming technique that activates seed germination - has helped to improve crop establishment and, as a result, increase yields.
At the same time, several tools enable growers to effectively adjust inputs into each parcel of land and even assess yields. A nitrogen deficit can have a negative impact on yields, while conversely an excess reduces sugar content and quality of the root.
The control of fertilization offers growers a strategic advantage. To correctly dose nitrogen inputs, producers take soil samples for analysis: based on the results and the agronomic parameters of the parcel of land, the Azofert IT system, developed by the INRA, calculates the recommended dose of fertilizer to use. The ITB, for its part, has developed Fertibet, a decision-making aid for integrating phosphate or potassium-enriched fertilizers.
Lastly, to provide good quality water at the right time and in the right place, a decision-making tool was created in 2003 by ITB: "Irribet". The farmer downloads the software from the Internet. He or she enters data on the soil features of the parcel of land and the sowing date, along with data from the nearest weather station. Based on the water budget calculated according to existing water reserves at the time of sowing, rainfall recorded since sowing and evaporation,the software provides an irrigation recommendation.
Combining natural performance and a capacity for change, sugar beet is, what’s more, now grown by farmers schooled in specialised techniques and equipment, like geolocation and remote-sensing by satellite, and on-board computers. These new and increasingly widespread technologies enable growers to monitor the condition of their land to the nearest 2 cm!
It’s a valuable and effective farm management tool that’s also environmentally-friendly. It also helps to make the French sugar beet sector one of the most efficient in the world.