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Published August 04, 2011, 02:56 PM

Energy beets touted as fighting salty soils

OAKES, N.D. — Promoters of “energy beet” production in North Dakota say the crop will make money, but it also could be a help in the region’s problems with “salt” soils, and other problems.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

OAKES, N.D. — Promoters of “energy beet” production in North Dakota say the crop will make money, but it also could be a help in the region’s problems with “salt” soils, and other problems.

Maynard Helgaas, president of the Green Vision group, says beets always have been known to have a tolerance for salinity in soils, but “didn’t know how much” until this year.

“First of all, the crop itself is tolerant,” Helgaas said, addressing a tour group at the Oakes (N.D.) Irrigation Research Site field tour July 26. “But from there on, the taproot opens up the soils to allow salts to be moved lower in the profile, so that (subsequent) shallow-rooted crops will do better.”

Helgaas notes that — in areas with excessively high water tables — the salts could move back up again, but he thinks that might be unusual.

New industry, new region

Green Vision is pushing forward in attempting to develop a non-sugar beet industry outside the traditional Red River Valley growing area. They are seeking a $1 million grant from the North Dakota Renewable Energy Council as a way to develop the industry into a series of ethanol manufacturing plants across the state. The grant would be $500,000 per year over two years.

The “Phase II” grant would be for engineering design and evaluation of alternative front-end technologies and equipment for processing whole energy beets before ethanol fermentation.

It also would continue statewide energy beet yield trials in 2012 and ’13. Helgaas says sites in the North Dakota cities of Langdon and Minot were added to the trials in 2011. Helgaas says the trials are helping to qualify energy beets for crop insurance in North Dakota.

The funds also would help “scale up and expand whole beet and juice storage research,” he says, as well as expand “stakeholder communication activities.” Helgaas introduced Karla Rose Hanson of KRH Communications L.L.C. as the organization’s new media and grower communications person. She formerly worked Great Plains Microsoft in Fargo, N.D.

Research outlook

Helgaas speculates that this year’s beet research plots may see a somewhat reduced yield in 2011 because of the later-than-usual planting.

“But the stands we have in the plots look very promising that the yields will be fairly close to what we’ve had in the past two years,” he says.

Last year, the nonirrigated yields averaged about 28 tons per acre and the irrigated yields averaged about 38 tons per acre.

“We’ve been as high as 42 tons on some varieties,” he says, emphasizing they are not bred for sugar production.

Blaine Schatz, director of North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research and Education Center, which oversees the Oakes Research Site, also spoke in Oakes, where he says energy beets hold promise from agricultural as well as economic standpoints.

Beets hold potential for improving the soil resource, complementing other crops in the rotation and improving use of water and fertilizer resources, in addition to tolerating saline soils, he says. Beets reduce the lateral flow of water and help counteract “saline seeps,” Helgaas and the researchers contend.

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