Case study


29 May 2020

The Work of the BBRO in Driving Yield Improvements

By far the most significant aspect of the work of the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) is in relation to improving sugar beet yields through plant breeding and genetics. Roughly £0.5m of the annual investment in the BBRO is focused on this work, with ongoing research and investment in plant breeding, including testing varieties and their performance. We estimate that this work alone delivers between 1 and 2 percentage points of yield improvements each year. 

Specific Initiative - Seed Priming and Pelleting

In 2007, work began on seed priming and pelleting, taking raw seed and, through Germains (a seed technology business which is part of ABF Sugar), advancing its potential by hastening the crop's emergence from the ground. The benefits of the new seed products and outcomes of the field trials were communicated through the BBRO, encouraging uptake from growers. Research has shown that these developments accelerated the rate of seed emergence by up to 7 days, which in turn reduces the risk of damage to seeds. This development also resulted in plants emerging more uniformly, enabling efficiencies for growers when applying plant protection products. 

Providing Tailored Advice for Growers

Tailoring advice to growers is essential as the needs of individual growers will differ based on numerous factors including soil type, crop rotation and farm size. An example of BBRO tailored advice has been the specific recommendation on soils susceptible to beet cyst nematode infection, to use tolerant seed varieties that had been tested in the BBRO's seed variety trials. This resulted in significant uptake in the use of tolerant varieties where needed.

Exploring use of the latest technology to drive on-farm improvement

The British beet sugar industry has long embraced the latest technology and innovations as it continues to improve processes and drive yield growth and productivity.

As part of this approach, the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) is working to harness the potential benefits of drone technology and satellite imagery. Drones and satellites carry sensors. Using three areas of the spectrum – visible light, near infra-red and infra-red, the BBRO has been exploring how this technology can enable better decisions on farm.

Images in the visible spectrum are being used by the BBRO to improve the quality and speed of plant counts. Near infra-red is used to detect vegetation and is used to quickly assess canopy growth as part of crop monitoring. Growers are using this technology currently to identify where weaker areas of growth in a field are, enabling them to focus efforts on those particular areas.

Infra-red, used for thermal images, is currently being explored for its potential ability to reduce sugar losses when the beet is stored on farm in a ‘clamp’ after harvesting – particularly given high temperatures resulting from poorly constructed clamps can be instrumental in sugar loss before the sugar beet reaches the factory.

While this work is still in its relative infancy, it nevertheless demonstrates the value of the investment from British Sugar and sugar beet growers in the BBRO, and the industry’s desire to continue to explore ways of improving performance.

Sharing best practice and providing practical advice

As part of the British Sugar and the BBRO’s work to continue to identify and promote best practice across the over 3,000 sugar beet growers in the UK, the BBRO launched its On-Farm initiative at the beginning of 2018, which has continued in 2019.

The initiative enables growers to compare their own on farm practice to the wider beet sugar industry in the UK. This includes, for example, reviewing lifting data related to soil type and weather conditions – with the information gathered by the BBRO as part of the programme – enabling it to provide advice on the best settings and practices to adopt. This helps growers to minimise losses, with a view to maximising yield.

On-Farm, also includes the Beet Yield Challenge, which is now in its third year. The Beet Yield Challenge provides growers with a framework to identify how to manage the resources at their disposal to the best effect. Participants enter a particular field into the challenge at the point of drilling and crop progress is monitored throughout the season, with growers receiving a number of benefits, including a free soil analysis and satellite imagery of their entry field. This data, combined with other data supplied by the grower throughout the process, is used to understand the factors influencing yield performance. A report on the challenge is produced at the end of each year and is available to all growers, and participants also receive a report on their own field which includes recommendations specific to them.

This year, the BBRO, British Sugar, ABF Sugar and NFU Sugar launched the joint ‘Brilliant Basics’ campaign. The project provides key messages, based on the research of the BBRO, in an easy to understand format, with simple steps for growers to implement to get the best out of their crop. The messages have included assistance for growers in their Seed Rate Sum to ensure they achieve 100,000 plants per hectare, a seed placement review to help growers drill the seed at optimum depth and spacing, and advice on plant protection spray timings to keep the crop growing strong.

The initiative aims to help growers recoup more of their sugar beet crop potential, timing the release of the messages to make sure they reach growers during the relevant growth stages of the crop.