Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) has decided to undertake experimental trials on sugar beet at six of its research stations: Melalathur, Cuddalore, Sirugamani and Vaigai Dam besides its campuses in Coimbatore and Madurai during this Rabi season (starting November- December).

The effort is aimed at evaluating and adjudging the crop performance as an alternative to sugarcane, said N Kumar, Vice Chancellor, TNAU.

Speaking on the sidelines of a ‘National Conference on Sugar Cane – Is there any alternative?’ organised jointly by the National Rainfed Authority of India, New Delhi and Global AgriSystem Private Ltd (GAPL), Kumar said: “Cane production has come under attack due to water and labour shortage on the one hand, (long) crop duration and poor returns for the farmer, on the other, forcing research institutions such as TNAU to find an alternative.

“Sugar beet is a four-and-a-half-month crop, is less water intensive and cost effective. We did research on sugar beet between 2005 and 2015 and documented the performance of a few hybrids. Our average production ranged between 35 and 40 tonnes / hectare.

“With Belgium-based SesVanderHave developing varieties suitable for tropical conditions and offering to supply seeds of 6 to 7 varieties of sugar beet for free, we plan to test and evaluate the performance in the six locations on a trial basis, without further delay,” Kumar said.

Gokul Pattnaik, Chairman, GAPL, said there was surplus surplus sugarcane production in the country, necessitating the need for rationalising the production besides promoting alternative crops such as sugar beet, which has great potential for sugar production and bio-fuel.

Shivajirao Deshmukh, Director-General, Vasanthdada Sugar Institute, Pune, said that sugar beet was being raised on about 300 acres in Maharashtra.

“We are looking at mills to lead the way. Mills will need a diffuser and the Government is willing to give a soft loan from the Sugarcane Development Fund to facilitate sugarbeet crushing. The institute has developed a processing plant,” he added.