Sugar cubes

'Exciting times' for sugar beet research

By Rachel Holdsworth - 23 August 2013

Exciting opportunities to collaborate and extend the scope of sugar beet research was the main driver behind a move by the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) to relocate to the Norwich Research Park.

The BBRO is an independent body funded by a levy from growers and British Sugar and its remit is to support the grower and enhance yield through consultancy and research.  The organisation was founded in 2003 has relocated to the Park’s Innovation Centre.

Colin MacEwan, the head of BBRO, says he is excited by the prospect of greater collaboration with scientists across the NorwichResearchPark.

“BBRO will be directing its own research to build the knowledge-base within the organisation and we will have world experts in plant disease, breeding and the impact of climate change within walking distance.”

The growing and harvesting of sugar beet is extremely time sensitive and it is currently only grown in specific areas in the East of England. Climate change will have a major impact; if beet can be sown earlier or across a wider area then the yield potential is huge. But if warmer, wetter weather brings new diseases from the Mediterranean, the crop could be devastated.

BBRO lead scientist Dr Mark Stevens studied for his PhD at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in collaboration with the John Innes Centre, which is internationally recognised as a centre of excellence in fundamental research for agriculture.

Research programmes will include enhanced breeding to improve resistance that is specific to the UK.  The availability of DNA sequencing technologies and the expertise of the scientists at JIC will be invaluable for this, offering the potential for improving yield for growers still further.

Colin MacEwan is keen to showcase the potential of the NorwichResearchPark to add value to the sugar beet production and create opportunities for growers.

“We are strengthening our direct contact with the growers through extension of trial plots across the region and will be establishing a comprehensive research programme to improve crop protection and enhance yield.

“In addition, there is an opportunity to leverage the wider capability of the park to create new markets for its by-products.  This is an exciting time for the industry”

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