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Published April 28, 2014, 11:17 AM

Industrial beet group delays start

A group promoting the idea of growing and processing industrial beets into ethanol and other biochemicals says it will wait until late June to form a grower-controlled group.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — A group promoting the idea of growing and processing industrial beets into ethanol and other biochemicals says it will wait until late June to form a grower-controlled group.

Maynard Helgaas, president of Green Vision Group, says the group had focused on 12 communities west of the Red River Valley area in North Dakota that might be good candidates for growing industrial beets for such a plant.

Green Vision held meetings in February and March with producers from five of the communities with the highest likelihood to site a first plant. Those towns include Valley City, Jamestown, Carrington, Langdon and Cando. North Dakota State University conducted three subsequent meetings separately, looking for interest in 30,000 acres for the project.

“Based on questions we got from those meetings, the growers want to see more commitment before they jump on board,” says Helgaas, a former implement company dealer from Jamestown, who now lives in West Fargo. “They want more information about the economics.”

Helgaas says some of the farmers at the meetings were concerned about herbicide carryover applications from previous years on other crops. The organization is studying potential new areas that could qualify for a plant, which theoretically would encompass a radius area of about 20 miles. Other criteria for locating a plant would be rail service — both incoming and outgoing.

“We just didn’t have time to get it done before the planting season,” Helgaas says. “The farmers were telling us they’re too busy with other activities. They’re extremely involved with trying to get fertilizer and their seed lined up, considering the rail issues in these rural communities.”

A grower group associated with Green Vision could qualify the project for federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. Some might come from the rural electric cooperatives and the industry.

Green Vision tried unsuccessfully to get the 2011 North Dakota Legislature to fund such a pilot project at a $6 million level. Also early on, the group studied the idea of retrofitting the old Alchem Ltd. corn-ethanol plant in Grafton, N.D., but that since has been dismantled. A separate, unrelated Iowa group also unsuccessfully considered that possibility in 2012.

Building regional plants that would use beets to make ethanol and beet juice, biochemicals and nutraceuticals, as well as cattle feed, fertilizer and baker’s yeast coproduct is still being considered.

Helgaas says Syngenta and Betaseed, which both sell sugar beet seed, together spent $229,000 for a two-year research program to help prove the crop’s production viability outside traditional Red River Valley growing areas. NDSU added $100,000 to the research project, including in-kind project leadership.

Field research

Blaine Schatz, director of the NDSU Research Extension Center in Carrington, will continue the project with the center’s harvesting and management, but Helgaas says the research will continue with seed contributions from Syngenta, Betaseed and now SESVanderHave, as a new third seed supplier.

Helgaas notes that Amity Technologies of Fargo also donated a four-row Wicks harvester to the project, which was modified into a two-row test plot harvester and fitted with a scale.

Helgaas says the field research project will continue in 2014, in the same locations as before, with one or two more sites added.

Schatz will continue trials at research extension centers in Carrington, Langdon, Williston and Minot, as well as on farm cooperator fields in Barnes, Stutsman and Towner counties, where Green Vision has determined the first processing plant would be likeliest. They also have trials at Oakes and Turtle Lake, N.D., but have dropped sites in Steele and Wells counties for this year.

“Last year it was so wet in the northern part of the state that they didn’t get the plots readied for beet planting, so those locations were abandoned for the year,” Helgaas says. “Now we’re going back there this year, if weather conditions are favorable.”

Green Vision plans to apply for a regional federal grant administered through South Dakota State University in Brookings. That grant would be to study the viability of piling beets at the end of the field and later in the fall hauling them to the plant, which is different than the current harvest methods in traditional beets for sugar.

Helgaas says the group is talking with Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., on harvest concepts. Tom Knudsen, Minn-Dak vice president of agriculture, acknowledges he’s interested in helping the group study options. He says Minn-Dak allowed some growers to experiment with the idea of piling beets at field ends during the wet 2013 harvest, rather than requiring continuous trucking. But after further consideration, Minn-Dak permanent policy doesn’t allow it.

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