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United Kingdom, Germany, United States




June 2014

How advances in seed treatment have benefited sugar beet farmers


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Sugar beet production is different from most other crops since each plant has just one root and uses the available space to grow this root to its maximum size. While more space might deliver a bigger root, it will not necessarily produce more sugar. In many grain crops more space for a plant means more seeds produced so empty spaces in a planting row can be filled by neighboring plants. In the early days of sugar beet production growers used to plant more seeds than needed to produce a good crop stand. After germination the surplus plants were thinned by hand – a labor-intensive and costly business. These days are now over thanks to advances in seed treatment.
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“Sugar beet seed was not monogerm so the beets needed to be singled back to one per station, all by hand,” says Mike May, an independent consultant for Mike May Consulting who has worked in the sugar beet industry since 1970. “Initially there was no pellet, just raw seed.” In the past, it was not possible to sow at end-plant distance for two reasons: the necessary sowing technology to place one seed had not been developed at the time, and recently germinated plants were threatened by insect pests.

Benefits of technological advances

Several advances in sugar beet technology introduced over the past few decades have transformed sugar beet production, resulting in increased yields and reduced labor requirements. Specifically, Bayer CropScience's seed treatments were key milestones in reducing hard labor and making intensive cultivation possible. The first major development was the introduction of monogerm-pelleted seeds in combination with precision sowing equipment. This created the possibility of planting every single seed exactly where it should germinate and grow.

Precision planting

“The introduction of monogerm varieties reduced the need for singling,” Mike May says. “They were first introduced to the U.S. in the late 1950s and to Europe in the mid-1960s. This resulted in the increased use of pellets to aid accurate sowing.” Mike adds that in most countries all beets were sown to a stand – with no singling or thinning – by the mid-1970s. “This was very necessary as hand labor for this task was difficult to find in most developed countries in the 1970s. From this point on, growers no longer sowed extra seed. However, this required good pest control.”
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Ensuring germination

The second breakthrough for sugar beet production was the development by Bayer CropScience of seed treatments containing active ingredients from the chloronicotinyl (CNI) chemical class. The fact that one seed produces one beet means it is critical for every seed to germinate and grow. Starting with the development of CNIs, Bayer can point to a long history of sugar beet products that help deliver one beet from each seed. The first of these game-changing seed treatments was Gaucho. “The first launch of Gaucho in sugar beet took place in France in the early 1990s,” says Wolfgang Leweke, a Bayer CropScience brand manager who was part of that launch team. Bayer then advanced the technology even further with the development of highly specialized sugar beet products such as Imprimo in Western Europe. This was followed some years later by Poncho Beta, now their state-of-the art CNI-based sugar beet product.

Change in mindset necessary

As Wolfgang Leweke says, launching this product was initially not easy because changes were needed in seed treaters’ application technology and in sowing techniques. “A change in mindset was needed to achieve success for Gaucho – people had to think of sowing rates per unit instead of per kilogram,” he says. “However, the technical advantages of the product were quite easy to establish in the customers’ minds and the product performance in the field was extremely impressive – as long as the new technology was applied and the application rate of the active ingredient was correctly loaded on the seeds.” It took nearly five years, Wolfgang Leweke says, to achieve widespread acceptance of sowing rates per unit, not kilogram.

Improved pelleting technology

It wasn't just a case of new products, but also of improved pelleting technology. “Bayer invested significantly in new application technology and made a huge effort to assist and support the pelleting facilities in applying our products with the right application technology and a precise loading of active ingredient per seed,” Wolfgang Leweke recalls. Bayer's expertise in application of seed treatments to sugar beet pellets has been developed by the Bayer SeedGrowth Center in Monheim and its Coatings facility in Mereville, France.
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Sugar beet yields doubled

“The introduction of CNIs has reduced the amount of work required in the crop – particularly post-emergence spraying – and losses from soil pests and many of those that attack the crop in its establishment phase,” says Mike May. “Major introductions such as monogerm varieties and CNIs have increased beet yields over the years. In general, beet yields in Northern Europe have doubled since the mid-1970s, whereas wheat and rape yields have remained static during that time.”

Monogerm seed and CNIs

According to Mike May, sugar beet does not lose yield until populations start to fall below 75,000 to 80,000 plants per hectare, but the main point is uneven spacing across a field. Thanks to technology such as monogerm seed and CNIs irregular plant stand is mostly the result of soil structure issues, not pests nowadays. “Sugar beet production has come a long way. Today, growers will sow for instance 1.1 units – 110,000 seeds – per hectare and achieve a population between 80,000 and 100,000 established beet plants,” Mike May points out. That’s a pretty big difference compared with 200,000 seeds per hectare with only 60,000 established plants before monogerm seed and the development of CNIs. It means growers and consumers alike enjoy the sweet taste of sugar beet.

Gaucho: Preventing Virus Yellows in the UK

The development of the chloronicotinyls (CNIs), the chemical class to which Bayer CropScience's Gaucho and Poncho Beta seed treatments belong, has not only increased yields for sugar beet growers but has also allowed producers in the United Kingdom, for example, to continue growing this valuable crop. “The UK was on the verge of giving up on sugar beets in the 1970s owing to huge losses from virus yellows,” Mike May points out. “Post-emergence insecticides helped control the virus-transmitting aphids but many sprays were required. Imidacloprid, the active ingredient in Gaucho, prevented virus spread until about the 10-leaf stage of beet. Since the introduction of Gaucho, the UK has not had a virus problem. Without it, the UK would have had disastrous infections in seven out of the eleven years between 1995 and 2005 in eastern England.”
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