85 percent of Crystal's beets are Roundup

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. shareholders planted 85 percent of the 2011 crop to Roundup Ready beets this year, down from last year's level of about 95 percent.

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. shareholders planted 85 percent of the 2011 crop to Roundup Ready beets this year, down from last year's level of about 95 percent.

Dan Bernhardson, Crystal's director of agriculture, says the percentage of conventional, non-GMO beet seed ranges from a low of 6 percent in the Drayton, N.D., factory district in the north to a high of 45 percent in the Crookston, Minn., factory district.

Bernhardson says shareholders planted about 450,000 acres, which is about 90 percent of share levels and is just short of the 92 percent that would have been allowed this year.

Shareholders fulfill their contractual obligation to deliver beets if they plant at the 80 percent level. Bernhardson speculates that some producers may have not planted the 92 percent maximum either because they didn't have land available or because their planting was completed.

In 2010, producers were authorized to plant 80 to 85 percent of their acres and ended with about 421,000 planted acres on an early-planted crop.


About 40 percent of the co-op's fields were planted in early May and have potential for 25-ton-per-acre yields, Bernhardson says. But 40 percent were planted relatively late in mid-May and another 20 percent were planted in late May or early June. The latest likely have a poorer outlook, with potential yields perhaps in the 18-ton range, assuming normal conditions from here on.


With excessive rains, plants that were planted earlier and have grown larger are more able to survive periods of standing water, he says. Only 1,500 acres have had to be replanted, which would be a normal number, but some of the late-planted fields are being planted later than replants normally would be.

"One of our big concerns is with root rot diseases," Bernhardson says.

This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved planting of Roundup Ready beets under increased reporting requirements, pending the outcome of court challenges to USDA's approval method for the genetically-modified crop.

Bernhardson says growers are complying fully with USDA rules that require producers to monitor fields for "bolters," or genetic anomalies that might create seed from the Roundup Ready crops. All commercially produced seed for sugar beets are grown in specific areas of Idaho in what normally is a two-year process.

USDA requires monitoring of the fields within 28 days and subsequent findings must be done in a "rolling" 28-day schedule, up to harvest. Growers must look for bolters and fill out reports on their monitoring practices and findings. Growers make those first inspections during their first glyphosate (Roundup) application, as they drive across a field. Crystal also requires growers to properly train the workers who will fill in the reports.

"If they do find any bolters, they must report them to the co-op," Bernhardson says. "So far, we have not had any reports of bolters, which does not surprise us, considering it'd likely be mid-July before we'd see any."


Crystal has a system for logging onto a website for shareholder/growers to report to the co-op, which in turn would report incidents to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Other co-ops

Further, co-ops are hiring third-party inspections and are doing their own inspections.

Here are reports from other co-ops in the area:

n Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, Wahpeton: The co-op has planted 120,900 acres this year, which represents 167 percent of the co-op's 72,200 shares. Last year, the co-op planted 160 percent of shares, and this year, it could have gone to 170 percent.

Only 400 of the co-op's acres were conventional, and that was because a grower had some conventional chemicals he wanted to use up, says Mike Metzger, research agronomist with Minn-Dak.

Metzger says about 25 percent of the co-op's acres look "phenomenal," another 50 percent look "average" and about 25 percent are "struggling." The biggest threat to the crop is root rot, with some fields going backward. He says this is despite the co-ops most aggressive effort ever for pre- and post-emergence herbicides, especially targeting rhizoctonia root rot.

No bolters have been seen in Minn-Dak fields so far. The co-op staff has been "hammering" on grower training. The co-op has made its second report on planting to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so that inspectors can know the latest on where beets have been planted, allowing statistically random auditing.


"So far, so good," Metzger says.

n Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative: Producers have planted about 100 percent of stock acres and appear to be heading to a good crop, but probably not a bin-buster.

"We're very happy where we ended up" on planting, says Todd Geselius, Southern Minnesota Beet's vice president of agriculture. The co-op started at 95 to 98 percent of stock acres but changed as the season became later, ending up where producers could have planted up to 105 percent.

Geselius says about 70 percent of the crop was planted mid-May or later, so is generally late. One factor is whether Roundup ready beets may help catch up, with a seven- to 10-day delay. There is there is less injury to the crop from glyphosate than there would have been with conventional beets and herbicides, which tend to set back the crop slightly.

"Seemingly, we get rain every third or fourth day," Geselius says. "With conventional chemistry, the timing of applications is critical. We would have had a difficult time doing that. With the glyphosate, we know we can get the weeds controlled, even if they're a little bigger."

Like his northern counterparts, Geselius isn't aware of any bolters being found in the Southern Minnesota growing area, although he acknowledges it's possible that a few may be encountered. The co-op has developed a database that shows how producers are doing with their monitoring. So far, he's says he's been pleased with how well growers are keeping up.

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