Slow leaf formation in spring is regarded as the main factor limiting sugar beet yield. It is therefore expected that yield can be enhanced when plants develop leaves earlier resulting in an extended growing period. The aim of this study was to analyse leaf and storage root growth of sugar beet plants sown in autumn or very early in spring with regard to possible yield increases. In 2005/06 and 2006/07, field trials were conducted at 4 sites with 6 sowing dates: August, beginning and mid of September, and in February, March and April. Sequential harvests were conducted to follow yield formation. Field emergence of autumn sown sugar beets was fast and reached 90% whereas in early spring it was severely restricted due to low temperature. Leaf and root yield formation of autumn and spring sown sugar beets could well be described with thermal time confirming that sugar beet growth is temperature driven and day length insensitive. Despite longer growing periods autumn sown beets did not form more cambium rings in the storage root than spring sown beets. That might be partly due to the bolting process after winter. However, early spring sown beets as well did not achieve more cambium rings than plants sown in April pointing to a presumably limited ability to adapt cambium ring formation. Because of the shift to reproductive growth, autumn sown beets formed high amounts of shoot dry matter, but not much root dry matter. Furthermore, the root dry matter consisted of a lower sugar and a higher marc content and would therefore not be suitable for sugar recovery. Earlier sowing in spring did not result in a significant yield increase because the benefit from early sowing diminished throughout the season as also obvious from the distance between the cambium rings. For bolting resistant sugar beet varieties, which are expected to be available in near future, the presented data form a basis to predict yield with models. However, it has to be investigated to what extent sugar beet growth and yield formation benefits from early sowing and extended growing periods.
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