Why sugar beet matters to us

Why sugar beet matters to us

Our herbicides have been important milestones in reducing the hard labor of sugar beet farmers and making the intense cultivation of the crop possible. More people can now make their lives a little bit sweeter.

Sugar beet is a relatively new crop, and is a unique product of breeding research. Within just 200 years, breeders have quadrupled the sugar content of the beet, transforming sugar from a luxury commodity into an everyday product. No other crop yields as much energy per hectare, and this makes sugar beet a potential option for the future production of bioenergy.

Sugar beet’s role in the economy

Sugar level
Sugar level
Since the start of sugar beet production around 1800, breeders have been able to further increase the sugar content of beet

For more than 200 years, sugar beet has been commercially cultivated in places with a moderate climate. Today, it’s grown on more than 4.5 million hectares worldwide. Key sugar beet producers are the European Union, the United States, Russia and Ukraine. In addition, cultivation in countries like China, Japan, Turkey, Chile or Egypt is of strategic importance for domestic sugar supply.

Around 170 million tons of raw sugar is produced annually, with 20 per cent derived from sugar beet, making the crop the second largest source of sugar after sugar cane.

World sugar production 2010/11 in millions tons
World sugar production 2010/11 in millions tons
World sugar production 2010/11

Sugar beet is also a valuable raw material for high energy feed products such as molasses and pulp-pellets. It has increasing relevance as a fuel source: a car could drive 65,000 km with bio-ethanol produced from one hectare of sugar beet.

Global sugar consumption is forecast to grow at an annual average of two per cent, driven mainly by population growth and rising incomes in Asia, North Africa and Middle East.

Problems faced by farmers

In the past, pulling weeds on the sugar beet fields was a job done by hand and shared by the whole family. It was necessary hard work because weeds left unchecked would deprive more than half the crop of light and nutrients.

Today, however, effective herbicides enable the beets to grow unhindered.

Weeds are by far the greatest challenge facing sugar beet farmers, but fungal diseases and insects are additional threats to the harvest. Powdery mildew, rust, cercospora leaf spot and ramularia leaf spot are typical fungal pathogens in sugar beet. The main insect pests are aphids, millipedes, garden symphylans, pygmy mangel beetles, slugs, tarnished plant bugs and beet flies.

(From left to right) Symptoms of damage of the pygmy mangold beetle on sugar beet plants, Adult pigmy mangold beetle on sugarbeet plant, Symptoms of the Cercospora beticola leaf spot on a sugar beet leaf.

Answers we offer

“It’s hard to imagine how we would control weeds without Betanal™”, says Piotr Luber, an experienced beet farmer in Poland.

We set high standards with our sugar beet herbicide Betanal™, which was developed in the late 1960s. Betanal™ made it possible to control post-emergence broad-leaved weeds in sugar beet. As a consequence, farmers could cultivate sugar beet intensively and free of manual labor.

Over the years, we have continuously improved the herbicide and now Betanal™ maxx Pro is highly effective against several critical weeds. We are the leading supplier of selective herbicides, ranking far ahead of our competitors.

We are also the global leader in the sugar beet seed treatment market and own a strong portfolio in both pest and disease control:
Poncho™ Beta and Imprimo™ are the key products. They offer maximum crop establishment and complete efficacy against soil insects and early sucking insects. Crop stand is a critical factor in maximizing sugar beet yields and good control of early sucking pests like aphids protect the plants against transmission of viral diseases. We also offer a broad range of products for subsequent spray application, including the insecticides Decis™ and Proteus™ and fungicides like Escolta™ and Sphere™ from our Nativo™ product family.

New technologies for the field

For more than 40 years, we have regularly improved Betanal™ products to offer reliable weed control in sugar beet. Unlike wheat or corn, no fundamentally new active ingredient has come onto the market for sugar beet herbicides in years.

We are innovating in this area. With leading sugar beet seed companies, e.g. KWS SAAT AG we are developing a technology based on the breeding of sugar beet varieties tolerant to herbicides in the ALS-inhibitor-class with broad-spectrum weed control. This will make sugar beet cultivation easier, flexible in its timing and more environmentally friendly.