Energy beet project moves forward

FARGO, N.D. -- An energy beet project is going toward planned commercialization in 2014 in North Dakota, despite the loss of a key leader. Maynard Helgaas says they will miss Cole Gustafson, a North Dakota State University agricultural economist ...

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FARGO, N.D. -- An energy beet project is going toward planned commercialization in 2014 in North Dakota, despite the loss of a key leader.

Maynard Helgaas says they will miss Cole Gustafson, a North Dakota State University agricultural economist who died of chest compression injuries in an April 28 corn planting accident at his family's farm in Chisago County, Minn., but the project will continue. Gustafson gained national attention for using energy beets as a feedstock for ethanol production.

"He was a tremendous help for our project," Helgaas says.

David Saxowsky, an agricultural economist, is taking over some of Gustafson's coordination between North Dakota State University and Green Vision Group. NDSU's Thein Maung, an agricultural economist, is doing economic feasibility modeling. BBI International completed an economic feasibility study for classifying energy beets for advanced biofuel production in 2007 at Muscatine, Iowa, and NDSU has adapted it to North Dakota agronomics.

Prior research that must be updated looked positive. Two-year-old numbers showed that a 20-million-gallon-per-year facility would break even at $1.52 per gallon or more, depending on the price of production and the price of ethanol. Based on studies completed in 2010, beet payments would be made at $42 per ton and net farm income of $13.9 million on 754,717 tons of production in a 20-million-gallon plant.


"We're hoping the positive research will reduce our processing costs and we'll be able to maintain the profitability," Helgaas says.

Betaseed and Syngenta-Hilleshog are again sponsoring research plots, which are operating in partnership between Green Vision Group and Heartland Renewable Energy, with leadership from NDSU. The North Dakota Renewable Energy Council, the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission and various communities and private companies are participating.

Blaine Schatz, director and agronomist at the Carrington (N.D.) Research Extension Center, is overseeing the plots. Helgaas says several North Dakota field tours are scheduled to start in about a month. They are:

• July 17 -- Carrington Research Extension Center, 10 a.m.

• July 18 -- North Central Research Extension Center in Minot, 10 a.m., with a lunch to follow. In 2011, that station had the highest of all nonirrigated plots.

• July 19 -- Langdon Research Extension Center, 10 a.m., in combination with Canola Day.

• July 25 -- Williston Research Extension Center, 8 to 11 a.m., Nesson Valley Irrigation site, 25 miles east of Williston on U.S. Highway 1804.

• July 25 -- Mewes farm, Colgate, 10 a.m., followed by lunch.


• July 25 -- Jim Broten Farm, Hannaford, 2 p.m.

• July 26 -- Ross and Brock Mutschler farm, Spiritwood, 10 a.m., with lunch following.

• July 26 -- Nelson Farms, Litchville, 2 p.m.

• July 31 -- Irrigation Research Site, Oakes, 10 a.m., followed by corn feed.

• Aug. 1 -- Shawn McKinven farm, Harvey, 10 a.m.

• Aug. 2 -- K&T Farms, Turtle Lake, 10 a.m., with lunch following in Turtle Lake Community Building.

Most of the tour locations are along paved roads and will be marked with signs for those who can't attend the tours. Specific details on directions will be available in early July at .

Helgaas says he is researching the best way to produce ethanol from beets. They are working on a grinding process, but also on how to lengthen the viability of stored juice and how to efficiently handle and transport the materials for optimal economic value.


In addition, promoters are working on data to develop quality standards and to expedite the development of crop insurance that would be needed for most farmers to obtain credit and minimize risk.

Research into energy beets is ongoing elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, as well. The "boot heel" of southern Missouri and surrounding states of Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky are collaborating. Some are using a tropical beet that has a two-year life cycle, Helgaas says. Some would include piled storage, but that would be part of the process, where the beet ages while it juices.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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