News and knowhow for farmers

Tropical sugarbeet: New crop opportunity for all counties

The introduction of tropical sugarbeet varieties has opened up its cultivation to millions of farmers in Rift Valley, Central, and Nyanza. Given that sugarbeets are more economical in sugar production than sugarcane and can also be a source of high-quality fodder, sugarbeets could be a major boost to Kenya’s sugar industry and livestock farmers.

Research has shown that 27 per cent of Kenya’s land area is suitable for growing sugarbeet. Of this area, 10 per cent was found to be high to moderately suitable and 17 per cent marginally suitable.

Climate and Soil

Tropical sugar beet thrive in well-fertilised and drained soils. It is preferable to grow them in soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5 and under full exposure to the sun.


The optimum temperature for sugarbeet germination and sugar accumulation is 18°C-32°C.

According to John Maina, the chief crop researcher and extension officer at Ranges Sugar Factory– Kenya’s first sugar beet processing company, the crop does particularly well in Nyandarua because of its peculiar climate. 

The county has a Mediterranean, warm summer climate with yearly temperatures of 19ºC, which is -3.47 per cent lower than Kenya’s average temperature.

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While the crop grows marginally quicker in hotter climates, the size of these tubers is marginally smaller.  

“We are currently working with farmers growing experimental crops in other regions of the country such as Laikipia, Narok, and Subukia,” John said

Crop Management 

Like most vegetables, it is recommended that the beets are first sown in a nursery for four to five weeks before transplanting them to fields.

“The crop should be watered once or twice every day. A watering rate of at least 20 liters per meter square should be sufficient,” he advised.

Excessive moisture can be harmful to the crop as it encourages the development of Downey mildew.


This should be done after land preparation. Each seedling should be planted with a handful of well-decomposed manure or a teaspoon of NPK 17:17:17 or NPK 20:20:20 fertiliser.

This is often timed to coincide with the onset of heavy rains to ensure the crop will have enough water.

First weeding should be done one month after transplanting if the land was well prepared and second weeding at the end of the second month.  

Weed infestation is one of the biggest challenges in sugar beet farming as it can easily overtake and choke the crop when it is young.

“Weeding can be the difference between a bumper and poor sugarbeet harvest,” informed the agronomist.

After the third month, their leaves provide a canopy that covers the weeds suppressing their growth.

Sugartop sugarbeet matures in 4½ to five months. 

Pests and Diseases

The major pests and diseases Maina has seen on Kenyan sugarbeet farms are cutworms which can be fought through store-bought insecticides.

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“Sugarbeets are most susceptible to pests and diseases during the first month of their life after which they are resistant to and can fight off most pathogens,” he observed.


With good management one acre of Sugartop sugarbeet yields between 32 and 45 tons. These seeds can be obtained directly from Simlaw Kenya or through Ranges Sugar Factory (0701013007) in Nyandarua.

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