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Published July 30, 2012, 10:24 AM

Sugar beets need rain

Sugar beets in the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota have held up relatively well this hot, dry summer, but many fields are short of moisture even after recent rainfall, officials say.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Sugar beets in the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota have held up relatively well this hot, dry summer, but many fields are short of moisture even after recent rainfall, officials say.

Parts of the Red River Valley received substantial rains, in some cases as much as 5 inches, on July 24 and 25. Other areas received very little moisture.

“The areas that got the higher amounts definitely will be helped,” says Dan Bernhardson, director of agriculture for Moorhead, Minn.-based American Crystal Sugar Co.

Beets in fields that received little rain gained only limited benefit, he says. Even the beet fields on which heavy rains fell will need more moisture to carry them through harvest, Bernhardson says. At this stage of their growth, beets use as much as three-tenths of an inch of moisture daily when it’s hot. At that rate, 2 inches of rain will provide roughly one week of moisture for a beet field.

It’s too early to have a good handle on yields, he says. But the cooperative’s preliminary estimate calls for an average yield of 26 tons per acre, down slightly from the record yield of 26.3 tons per acre in 2010, but up sharply from 20.7 tons per acre in 2011, when the wet spring hampered planting and hurt yields.

This year’s early spring and favorable planting conditions allowed the 2012 sugar beet crop to get off to a strong start, raising hopes of an outstanding crop. Prolonged hot, dry weather has cut into those hopes, Bernhardson says.

The Drayton, N.D., area, in the northern Red River Valley, is an exception. As much as 5 inches of rain fell there in early July, Bernhardson says.

Beets planted by grower/members of Wahpeton, N.D.-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative generally look good, though dry conditions are a concern, says Chris DeVries, communications manager.

He didn’t have an estimate of how many tons per acre Minn-Dak beets might yield.

Minn-Dak planted 114,000 acres of beets this spring, the same as a year ago. The cooperative is scheduled to begin pre-lifting its beets on Aug. 14, DeVries says. Pre-lifting involves harvesting a small amount of beets early to allow sugar beet factories to begin processing. American Crystal expects to begin its pre-lift in mid-August, but hasn’t set a date yet, Bernhardson says.

The cooperative planted 437,000 acres this spring, down from 448,000 a year ago. More acres were planted last year to offset the poor yields anticipated because of wet planting conditions.

As of the morning of July 24, most of the Red River Valley was in drought, with the rest rated abnormally dry, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a partnership of federal and academic scientists.

The weekly drought map was updated before the rains that fell July 24 and 25.

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