Sugar sector resilience – N-placement

21 June 2024

Sugar beet growing in a field

After learning about producing ‘lower carbon’ sugar, Cambridgeshire farmer Jordan Allen decided to try placing fertiliser at drilling. Find out more about n-placement.

What is N-placement?

Nitrogen placement (N-placement) involves using specialised equipment to place fertiliser in close proximity to the sugar beet seed, facilitating faster growth during the early stages of germination.

Placing fertiliser with the seed encourages more effective uptake of the nutrients available and, therefore, generally reduces the total amount of N (nitrogen) required by the crop.

Targeted placement has shown that crops use N more efficiently. A reduction in nitrogen usage of 10-20% has been achieved by placing nitrogen to the side and below the seed (generally 2” below and 2” to the side). Commercial strip trials have reduced rates from 120 to 90 kg N/ha with placement.

Regular, comprehensive soil assessments should guide all nutrient applications. AHDB’s Nutrient Management Guide (RB209) can help growers make the most of organic materials and balance the benefits of fertiliser use against the costs – both economic and environmental.

“Government and supply chain support are vital.”

Cambridge farmer and NFU member Jordan Allen

Specialist N-placement equipment is available, but it is also possible to retrofit N-placement capability to your existing drill or cultivator. Alternatively, you can use banding equipment pre-drilling.

N-placement and net zero

Placing nitrogen can deliver reductions in both scope 3 emissions, through a reduction in the total fertiliser applied, and scope 1 emissions, through reduced fuel use and minimise nitrous oxide emissions from the soil.

However, equipment is expensive, and additional labour may be required to keep fertiliser hoppers filledHowever, results, in terms of yield or fertiliser saving, aren’t guaranteed.

What are Scopes?

To better understand climate impact, businesses’ GHG (greenhouse gas) accounting uses Scopes to provide transparency. They categorise where emissions come from.

Emissions are grouped into three ‘Scopes’ or categories.

  • Scope 1 – direct emissions from the business (fuel use, soil-based emissions)
  • Scope 2 – indirect emissions from the business (electricity, gas)
  • Scope 3 – emissions associated with the materials and inputs used by the business

Find out more about How supply chain Scope 3 emissions affect farming.

Farmer story

NFU Member Jordan Allen farms in Cambridgeshire produce 9,000t of sugar beet for delivery into Wissington Sugar Factory. He has placed liquid N for the first time this year with injectors retrofitted to a Väderstad Tempo drill.

Jordan commented, “2024 has been our first year placing fertiliser at drilling. Having attended NFU Sugar’s conference breakout session and learned about its project to incentivise ‘lower carbon’ sugar with LENs and Nestle we decided to give it a go on a limited area this year. It doesn’t come without cost or risk, and we’ll be monitoring our yields closely to assess performance.

”Government and supply chain support is vital to managing the added cost and risk of ‘lower carbon’ approaches if we’re to adopt them within our beet crop going forward.”