2018 BBRO Winter Technical Meetings

On the 6th and the 8th of February this year, I had the opportunity to attend and introduce myself to the attendees of the BBRO Winter Technical meetings. These meetings occur within the first months of the year and provide a chance for sugar beet growers and other interested parties to see what the BBRO and its PhD students have been up to over the previous year, and allows the BBRO to address key subjects that are important to the growers! The theme for this year was ‘thinking differently’, and some of the issues addressed included the potential neonicotinoid ban and how the BBRO have been addressing issues that growers had previously highlighted. One of my favourite things about the day was that questions were mixed in between the presentations, and that the audience could answer these using fancy voting clickers, letting the BBRO know what the growers thought were the most important issues facing them in the future.

The first speaker of the day was guest speaker Hazel Doonan from the Agricultural Industries Confederation speaking about the future of neonicotinoids. This talk was really interesting as she explained the process of insecticide approval in the EU and a timeline of progress and key dates regarding the current neonicotinoid debate. She also has a fondness for the bees, and she discussed ways to help honeybees, bumblebees and solitary bees in the field. The second speaker was the BBRO’s own Dr Mark Stevens (Head of Science) discussing the impact of neonicotinoids on the sugar beet crop; including control of leaf miners.


Next up it was the PhD students turn from the University of Nottingham (@UoN_Beet_team). Amongst the PhD students is an even rarer breed of person than the already rare entomologist, a nematologist! Alistair Wright is a fourth year PhD student working on the beet cyst nematode and was the first student speaker of the day. He discussed some of the work he’d been doing on resistant varieties and showed some amazing drone and live nematode footage for the audience. Next up was Jake Richards, a third year PhD student working on the effects of cover crops on soil structure and sugar beet yield. We also had Tamara and Georgina. Tamara is another 4th year PhD student working on water uptake in sugar beet, focusing on the below ground system with some very lovely pictures showing how xylem varied depending on the depths of the root. Georgina is a 2nd year PhD student working on water use efficiency of sugar beet, with a focus on the water uptake through the stomata in the canopy of the crop. And then it was my turn to introduce my PhD!

After the break Stephen Briggs, the second guest speaker of the day, from the Innovation of Agriculture discussed soil health. There was a lovely emphasis on the importance of soil fauna in this talk, particularly addressing the importance of earthworm recording using a variety of different tools including the OPAL guide! Then the BBRO team took to the stage to discuss some of the projects they’ve been working on during 2017. First up was Dr Mark Stevens discussing some of the foliar diseases seen in sugar beet and the results of the BBRO fungicide trials. Also mentioned was the BBRO plant clinic and how this helps with identifying foliar diseases, so do send in samples! And then it was over to Dr Simon Bowen, discussing some of the 2017 crop progression and recovery projects with a key message ‘don’t judge your crops by their colours’, as there were many differences seen in the characteristics of different sugar beet varieties through some of their work. The stage was then handed over to Dr Toby Townsend who is working with the BBRO on the BeetGro model, followed bySimon speaking about some of the results and advantages of entering your sugar beet field into the Beet Yield Competition. And last up was Stephen Aldis, speaking about his role in the BBRO and the results from the harvester testing programme.

It was quite different for me to speak in front of a large number of people (around 380 attendees in total) compared to the usual 20-30 other students in a classroom (at most!) and I was quite nervous. And although I knew when I applied for this PhD that there was significant application for its findings to be disseminated to sugar beet growers, actually standing up in front of some of the people this work might affect put a lot of things into perspective for me, even if I was only speaking for a whole 2 minutes! So, I was surprisingly pleased and relieved by the number of people who came and spoke to me during the breaks to ask questions and offer their support. At some point in the near future, I will be setting up a website/blog section to ask for help in sending in samples of sugar beet leaf miner across the country. So, if you’re interested in helping me collect some samples of Pegomya sp. please let know or keep an eye out as I’ll be sending out a call for help soon! 🙂


Thanks to the BBRO team for all the support they’ve given me so far and my lovely banner and to my supervisor Lewis who took the time out of his busy schedule to attend the first meeting! And a special thanks to Debbie Sparkes (@DebbieSparkes), our chairwoman for the day and Ches for organising such wonderful events. I’ll look forward to working with you on my placement in the summer! For more information on the BBRO visit their website (https://bbro.co.uk) or follow them on twitter (@BBRO_research/@BBRO_Beet) 🙂

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