Forage focus: ‘Savage’ crops of beet pulled in Co. Kildare

Roger Perry was harvesting beet last week. The tillage farmer and contractor is based between Killcullen and Athy in Co. Kildare.

The contractor once pulled 700ac of beet – it was 30% of his total workload. However, the number of acres his business sows and harvests at the moment is significantly less.

The Kildare-based contractor also ploughs; sows and harvests cereals; sows beet and grass seeds; and spreads bulk fertiliser.

AgriLand caught up with him last week in Kilmead, not too far from his own farm, where he was harvesting beet.

“I’d say we’ve 60ac pulled so far this year and we’ve another 60ac to pull,” he explained.

“We’ll be another two weeks at it hopefully. It’s all around this area. We’re happy enough with how it’s going.

The weather has been good and we got a good bit of the awkward work done, so it’s straightforward work from now on.

“This field was opened and we stopped when the rain came. We were able to come back the next day. It’s a very dry field.”

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John Murphy working the beet harvester for Roger Perry

Beet yield

Beet is yielding very well this year and the quality is good. The fact that crops are being pulled in good conditions is an advantage.

“There are savage crops of beet this year. It’s yielding well. It’s doing 35t/ac plus.

“It’s all fodder beet that we’re pulling, different varieties, and they are all big crops. It’s becoming plentiful and farmers have extra beet,” he said.

“Any farmer that’s feeding cattle sows it for themselves for feeding; they’re selling the surplus. There’s not too many who sow it to sell.

We don’t wash any beet – we harvest it. One farmer that we work for mixes it with maize in the pit. It’s a great way of keeping beet.

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Beet in Ireland

Perry didn’t want to be negative but he thinks it would be very difficult to restart the sugar beet industry in Ireland. According to the contractor, too much investment would be required – especially in machinery.

I don’t think the sugar industry will come back. The last time that we had a sugar beet campaign in Ireland was in 2005. At the time, diesel was 30c/L  and fertiliser was €200/t.

“It was 30% of our work at one stage – between sowing and harvesting. But life moves on. There is life after beet. I don’t think that it will come back. I’m not being negative.

“I think that dairying has taken a big chunk of tillage land and I don’t think people will go back to it. It’s not feasible. Where is the machinery going to come from?”

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Roger Perry pushing beet into the clamp

Perry sold his beet harvester after the last beet campaign in 2005 and bought his Armer Salmon harvester.

“We were working Thyregod beet harvesters and then, when the beet went, we got rid of them and I bought the Armer Salmon in later years.

“I had customers that I was sowing beet for and then I had to get someone else to harvest it. The harvester came up, so I bought it when I knew what I was doing.

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“If the sugar industry came back, the machine we’re using is too antiquated for harvesting sugar beet. Farmers aren’t going to buy machines – they are too dear.

“It’s over €100,000 to buy a decent harvester. I can’t see people investing in it. Plus dairying is after taking a big chunk of tillage land as well.

“That machine there isn’t going to harvest beet to keep a plant going. It’s too old fashioned; it’s too time consuming,” he concluded.

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