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69.6 Tons & 17.6% Sugar! ~ New Sugar Beet Gross Sugar/Acre Record Set in California

T here’s no stockpiling of beets in California’s Imperial Valley, given harvest-time temperatures that often top 100 degrees. The harvest season typically stretches from April until...

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     There’s no stockpiling of beets in California’s Imperial Valley, given harvest-time temperatures that often top 100 degrees. The harvest season typically stretches from April until early August, with growers operating off carefully scripted daily quotas desinged to ensure that the Spreckels Sugar factory at Brawley can process all beets within 12 hours of delivery.      The 2009/10 growing season provided a real test — in a good way — for growers and processor alike. The average yield for this year’s 25,188 Imperial Valley harvested acres was 43.91 tons per acre. Coupled with a sugar content averaging 17.26% and an 88.71% purity, the crop produced 15,061 pounds of gross sugar per acre and 12,508 pounds of extractable sugar.      With overall output like that, perhaps it’s not too surprising that the 2010 harvest also witnessed a new world record in terms of gross sugar per acre across an entire field. Even more impressive, however, is that the old record (21,140 pounds/acre, set in 2004) was topped by no fewer than nine Imperial Valley growers this year.      Among them is the new record holder, Ralph Taylor. His 144-acre record-setting field averaged 69.63 tons per acre, 17.63% sugar and 88.9% purity, for a gross sugar total of 24,552 pounds per acre. That topped the former record by more than 3,400 pounds.      But there’s more. Between them, Taylor and his son Jason — who together annually produce just over 2,000 acres of beets — harvested three fields this past summer that exceeded  the previous world record for gross sugar per acre.      So what was the formula behind this eye-popping productivity?      Favorable weather, a strong variety, an exceptional plant stand — and some tweaking of the irrigation schedule toward the end of the season — sum it all up, according to Taylor. ​      That 144-acre field was seeded to the Holly Hybrids variety Coronado (which went on half of Taylor’s 2009/10 beet acreage — the other half being planted to Phoenix, another Holly variety). Taylor says he took a chance by placing the newer variety on such a large percentage of his acreage. "But I’d grown about 10 acres (of Coronado) the year before, and it went through a hot spell and still came out with good sugar and pretty good tonnage," he explains. "So I felt pretty comfortable. Luckily, it turned out in my favor."

‘That was the first field I’ve ever grown where we had to slow down the digger because there were so many beets going through.’

Above: Ralph Taylor (left) and his son Jason (right) are joined by ranch foreman Jose Lerma in the field that set the new record for gross sugar per acre.

     The record-setting field was planted fairly late (latter October) and followed alfalfa. Its fertilizer regimen was pretty standard — urea, UN 32 and 11-52-0. It was planted-to-stand at a 3.5" in-row spacing. The final plant stand was exceptional, acknowledge Taylor and his Spreckels agriculturist, Chris Ball. "It was a perfect stand," Ball affirms. "There wasn’t a beet missing."      Off to a great start, the field — like much of the Imperial Valley 2009/10 sugarbeet crop — also benefited from favorable spring weather. "Mother Nature really came through for us," Taylor relates. "We had a nice cool spring — not too cold, not too hot. And we had a series of timely spring rains."      Root rot is always a late-season concern in the hot Imperial Valley summers. To reduce its threat, Taylor cut off his irrigation water earlier than normal. The record-setting field’s final irrigation was on June 25 — roughly five weeks before the harvester pulled into the field.      The field ended up with a harvested beet count of 44,632 roots per acre. "They were touching each other all the way down the row," notes Chris Ball. "You couldn’t fit another beet in there."      "That was the first field I’ve ever grown where we had to slow down the digger because there were so many beets going through," Taylor smilingly recounts. "A nice problem to have.      " Taylor’s 2010/11 sugarbeet acreage is again split between Coronado and Phoenix. About 20% of the current crop had to be replanted due to crusting from hard fall rains. "But we should be all right," the Imperial Valley grower says. "That’s one good thing about having a lot of acres: if you do have to replant some of them, you can harvest those fields later." — Don Lilleboe

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