Beating the drum for industrial beetsThe promoter of an idea to raise sugar beets to be converted into energy and chemicals says 13 communities in central North Dakota could be home to processing plants.
By: Keith Norman, Forum News Service
JAMESTOWN, N.D. — The promoter of an idea to raise sugar beets to be converted into energy and chemicals says 13 communities in central North Dakota could be home to processing plants.
Maynard Helgaas, president of the Green Vision Group, talked about industrial beets as a possible new crop for the region during a meeting in Jamestown N.D..
Industrial beets are a type of sugar beet used to produce ethanol and bio-chemicals. Green Vision Group is in the planning stages for a number of processing plants in central North Dakota.
“This is a tremendous project for rural North Dakota,” Helgaas says. “There are not many projects possible that could have this kind of impact on central North Dakota.”
Farmers within a 20-mile radius of a processing plant would be contracted to produce about 30,000 acres of energy beets per year. Each plant would employ about 25 people in year-round operations.
Research in growing industrial beets has been going on for about four years, according to Blaine Schatz, director of the Carrington Research Extension Center.
“We’re in the infancy of developing production practices for industrial beets,” he says. “But the best practices of the Red River Valley sugar producers can be tweaked to work here.”
Red River Valley sugar beet farmers have learned to monitor the chemicals used on their land.
“Beets are very sensitive to chemicals used commonly in corn and soybean operations,” Schatz says. “But Red River Valley farmers have learned to grow sugar beets and still have clean fields of corn and soybeans in the rotation.”
“The problems with the farm chemicals can be a big deal,” says Dennis Swanson, seed specialist for Wholesale Ag Products in Carrington. “Farmers that want to be a part of this in 2016 may have to change their chemical practices now.”
Swanson says the concept of the industrial beets would offer a lot of benefits.
“This could be good for the community and the growers,” he says. “We’re very interested in how it develops.”
Helgaas says the processing plants might be owned by the farmers as a cooperative. Details of financing and ownership are still being researched.
Gary Speidel, manager of energy services for Montana Dakota Utilities Co. in Jamestown, says the concept is sound.
“It all has merit, the question is, can they bring it together,” he says.
Helgaas says a demonstration project is planned for 2015 or 2016. Meetings with prospective farm producers are being scheduled for January.