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Sugar beet crop an alternate to cane  

By Dr Ali Muhammad Khushk & Najma Mallah

THE availability of irrigation water is declining over the last few years. Irrigation experts do not hope for much improvement in the situation. They foresee a decreasing supply as the time passes. The situation is alarming for both the government and farmers as production of food and cash crops would be adversely affected.

The conditions can be mitigated by taking some steps such as the construction of water storage reservoirs; use of underground water where it is fit for crop cultivation; using measures which could help increase the efficiency of available water like sprinkler irrigation, laser levelling and furrow irrigation; plugging of seepage and leakages; and judicious use of water. The cropping pattern needs a change by replacing high delta crops with those needing less irrigation water.

The two major high delta crops are sugarcane and rice. Due to dwindling water supply, the government has decided to replace these by low delta crops for which a campaign in Sindh and the Punjab was carried out, more so in the former province for replacing sugarcane area with beet.

Farmers responded by bringing about 1,200 acres under sugar beet mainly in Badin District during 2001-02. They had a good crop. But for the lack of marketing facilities, they were left with no alternative but to plough in the crop or use it as a feed for the livestock. They thus suffered financial losses.

Sugar beet can be grown in lower Sindh where climate is more favourable than in the Punjab, particularly in the last stage of maturity. It can be grown on marginal and saline lands. But a processing plant exclusively for sugar beet is not economical. It is viable only if its processing is done as a supplement to cane processing after the crushing is over.

The data of a sugar mill in the NWFP reveals that the cost of sugar made from beet is dearer by about Rs4 per kg because of the non-availability of bagasse. The cost can be reduced if coal firing system is used. The local coal is suitable for the purpose.

Sugar beet is a Rabi crop and therefore it impacts production of wheat and oilseed crops as it competes with these crops for land and water. It should be kept in mind that wheat is a strategic crop and the country needs to keep its production above domestic requirements.

It is problematic to replace cane with beet. In the NWFP, where both are grown since long for the manufacture of sugar, there has been in fact a decrease in the area of beet since mid-1980s.

Sugar beet is tropical and sub-tropical crop and can be cultivated in different climatic conditions. The seed germination requires 5-10 C. High temperatures are preferred during vegetative growth. During day about 25 C is required while in the night 20 C is suitable. It grows best when soil moisture is between 40 and 60 centibars (cb). Excessive irrigation should be avoided after planting and prior to seed germination when soil temperatures are lower than required for infection.

It is important to prepare soil thoroughly for getting fine soil conditions. It is advised to deep ploughing of soil at least 2-3 time, depth about 30-35cm and thereafter breaking the clods completely through clod crusher and leveller.

Proper sowing time of sugar beet is one of the important factors which affect the yield and quality of crop. It can be sown from early October to the end of November. The recommended seed rate for sugar beet is about 2kg/acre (40,000 plants per acre).

Manuring of sugar beet is the most important factor which not only affects the yield but also improves the quality. Proper management is essential to produce better root yield with maximum sugar content and juice purity.

Furrow irrigation is the most common method. The first irrigation is done just after sowing. If the top of some ridges where seed is placed do not receive moisture, a second irrigation is applied a week later. Care is taken not to destroy the ridges with excessive water during the first irrigation of October. Third irrigation is required in November. In the later part, 4-5 irrigation are needed with fortnightly intervals. Irrigation water should not stand for a long time in the field as it makes the root prone to infestation by the number of diseases and may result in lower yield.

The early planted crop inter-culturing and weeding can be done until mid-January and for the late sown crop until mid-February. The second dose of nitrogen is applied just before inter-culturing by the end of January or early February. Winter annual weeds are troublesome and can be controlled only in a system that utilizes all available tools and techniques.

Protection of the beet crop in the early stage of growth is highly important. Growers normally plant the crop at low plant density therefore greater risk is involved due to insect attack. Field cricket, cutworm, aphids and jassids, and army worm are the main pest insects.

Foliar, seedling, sclerotium root rot bacterial and viral diseases mostly attack the plants for which crop rotation and resistant seed varieties are recommended.

Courtesy:  The Dawn;

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