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Published September 28, 2010, 10:16 AM

ND grower sticking with carrots

INKSTER, N.D. — Steve Enger of Hatton, N.D., has been producing nice, big orange tasty carrots for more than a decade now.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

INKSTER, N.D. — Steve Enger of Hatton, N.D., has been producing nice, big orange tasty carrots for more than a decade now.

“This is the 11th year up here,” Enger says, giving a field tour in late August at the Forest River Colony farm, west of Inkster, N.D. “I was producing about four or five years before that.”

Today, it appears Enger is the lone ranger of carrots in the Red River Valley and surrounding areas. The closest commercial production probably would be in the Albert Lea, Minn., area. He says the carrot enterprise has come to account for about a fourth of his farming income, which primarily is centered on a wheat and soybean farm near Hatton.

In late August, the carrots Enger was showing Agweek were in the 2 to 3-ounce range, but by the time he harvested his 17th semi-truck load Sept. 21, they were in the 10-ounce range — about a foot long and to 1.75 inches in diameter. They started harvesting Sept. 16, and he thinks it’ll be a monthlong harvest.

This is a good place to raise carrots, he says.

“The colony approached me,” Enger says. “We were looking for a place to grow carrots, and they were interested in an alternate crop.”

The Forest River Colony land is well-suited for carrots — sandy, irrigated ground. Carrots work out as a rotation crop for the Hutterites.

“Our carrots usually follow potatoes, and then they usually put corn or soybeans on it. I think a couple of fields I’ve been on twice, and one I’ve been on three times in 10 years,” Enger says.

Staking his claim

Enger initially had hopes of getting into the fresh carrot business, but reality soon set in.

“The fresh carrot industry is controlled by two companies — Grimmway Farms and Bolthouse Farms, both in California,” Enger says. “They’re year-round suppliers, and they kind of pretty much keep anybody out of there, from getting into the fresh market business.”

Consequently, Enger’s carrots have been used the dehydration market the whole time. Initially, there were other carrot growers, but the rest have quit.

“It’s such a small market in the dehydration market,” he says.

Enger remain primary carrot supplier for the Minnesota Dehydrated Vegetables plant in Fosston, Minn. The plant also handles dehydrated potatoes for most of the year.

The carrots Enger produces primarily are diced into products into three-eighths-inch cubes, he thinks.

“They’re doing some slicers this year, too,” Enger says.

“They want a large carrot so they can get as many square dices as they can,” Enger says. “Anything left over is ground up into a powder and goes into dog and cat food. I’m not sure what all their markets are, but one is the soup starters. They also have done some shoestring types of things that they sell into the bakery industry for carrot cakes and carrot muffins, that type of thing.”

Besides size, the dehydration company is looking for color and dryness.

“A carrot is about 88 percent water. The more solids you can give them the better they like it because the cost of dehydrating is so much less,” Enger says.

As for color, the companies like to have a nice color after dehydration.

“Then it’ll maintain its color. A lot of these carrots are stored dried for a substantial amount of time before they get marketed,” he says.

He delivers the carrots fresh, and they’re processed immediately.

Enger’s carrot acreage hasn’t changed much over the years — about 135 acres under a single pivot of irrigation. But he planted fewer acres this year this year, primarily because of import pressure.

“Believe it or not, we have to compete with China because they import dehydrated carrots,” Enger says. “That’s probably the biggest supplier of dehydrated carrots for this country comes from China.”

Labor costs must be far less, he says.

Other ventures

Carrots aren’t the only nonconventional thing Enger has tried in agriculture.put a kibosh on that.

About the same time he was working on producing edible pumpkin seeds — a market where he also met with Chinese competition.

“You just couldn’t get the yield out of them here. We just didn’t have the growing season to accomplish that,” he say s.

The bread-and-butter crops are wheat and soybeans, but he finds ways to change that up a bit.

This summer, he planted a quarter of turnips and radishes into standing wheat stubble as a fall cover crop. That’s not common in the Red River Valley — yet. He got the cover crop seeded from Aug. 21 to 23, and by the time he was finished planting, some of it was sprouted.

“There’s been a lot of interest and promotion from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to plant cover crops,” he says. “It caught my eye because I read an article in The Furrow magazine this winter. They call it a ‘tillage radish’ because they go down so far. I was at Forman, N.D., at their field day, and the roots of the radish went down 4 feet. That provides a channel for water to go down and also takes the water out of the ground so you have a place for that water to go in the spring.”

He and his wife, Dorothy, have been in a consulting business. They have sold “Part Art,” which is garden ornaments made from miscellaneous ag parts.

The primary alternative crop has been carrots.

“I’m a believer on the carrots to do the biological stuff to get the microorganisms growing in the soil to break down the elements in the soil so they’re available to the plant,” Enger says. “We’ve tried a lot of things.”

One of the new production wrinkles in the past few years has been the use of spent lime. It’s a good source of calcium for the carrots.”

Spent lime is a byproduct of sugar beet purification. According to the American Crystal Sugar Co. website, the stuff is created by heating mined calcium carbonate limestone to form calcium oxide and carbon dioxide. These products are injected into the “thick juice” during beet processing and reform as calcium carbonate. As the calcium carbonate reforms, it captures and adsorbs many of the impurities in the juice and precipitates out from the juice. The precipitate forms a solid lime product that needs to be discarded, leaving behind “thin juice” from which the sugar is extracted.

The spent lime is added to acidic soils to raise the pH, as well as adding phosphorus potassium and other soil micro-nutrients.

Enger says its great for growing carrots.

“It’s kind of a powder-like when you put it on. It’s a source of calcium and carrots are a big user of calcium.”

Just one more new thing for Enger.

Starting in the mid-1990s, his family ran a “Family Fun on the Farm” Halloween/harvest attraction and maze.