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Sugar beet yields could double in next 20 years

WHILE the yield potential of sugar beet crops could double by 2030, winter wheat will need a step change in breeding development if the yield potential of the crop is to rise sufficiently to meet the demands of the future.

According to Broom’s Barn director Bill Clark, the gains already made in wheat yields over the past 150 years from advancements in crop production won’t be repeated again.

The sugar beet story is very positive, commented Mr Clark, speaking ahead of the Broom’s Barn Research Centre Open Day in Suffolk.

“We have the potential to double sugar beet yield in 20 years time with a combination of agronomics, breeding and science,” he said.

“Trial yields in sugar beet are rising at twice the rate of on farm yields, but farm yields are still climbing and 120t/ha is a modest target for the crop.”

The story for wheat was not so good and the target of doubling yields to 20t/ha (8t/acre), a key focus of specialist work being undertaken by Rothamsted Research, would be very hard to achieve, he added.

Step changes

“Technology has brought us from 2t/ha in the late 1800s to 10t/ha now, but we’ve had all the gains such as the improvements in the control of weeds, pests and diseases, in addition to the optimisation of nitrogen, and they brought us step changes in yield,” he said.

“We’ve already doubled wheat yields twice in two step changes and the idea you can just double them again is not straightforward. Wheat yields have plateaued on farm for the past 15 years,” he added.

Mr Clark said 20t/ha was not attainable at the moment but the genetic potential of the crop had to rise. “It’s going to need a massive intervention in plant breeding to deliver the increases we are looking for,” he said.

“Modification of plant photosynthetic efficiency will raise yield potential and on-going developments in crop protection products will continue to raise the attainable yield.”

He suggested biotech crops would also play their part in raising wheat yields and GM methods, not necessarily GM crops, were already being widely used.

“Raising wheat yields is possible but, without the science, increases will be very slow.”

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