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Minn-Dak Farmers makes tough choice, keep beets in fields

WAHPETON, N.D. -- Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative on Oct. 27 told its shareholders there will be no toll agreement for its excess beets, so individual farmers will be done harvesting when they've reached 88 percent of their contracted acres.

2932614+Sugar Beet Harvest Jason Lugo iStockphoto.jpg
Jason Lugo/iStockphoto.com

WAHPETON, N.D. - Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative on Oct. 27 told its shareholders there will be no toll agreement for its excess beets, so individual farmers will be done harvesting when they've reached 88 percent of their contracted acres.

Minn-Dak's total crop is 3.25 million tons, up from the 3.1-million-ton record crop in 2010. This year's yield is about 32.5 tons, setting a record by 5.5 tons per acre, compared to the 27-ton per acre record in 2014.

About 448,500 tons of beets will be left in the field.

The company started advising growers how to destroy beets to save on cost and maximize conditions for crops in 2017 and beyond. The effective harvest is thereby complete, with the company estimating 87.6 percent of its acres were harvested as of Oct. 31, said Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture for the company.

Knudsen indicated last week that shareholders on Oct. 23 had been authorized to cut their "corral" of potentially unharvested beets from 15 percent of their total acres - 17,250 acres - to 12 percent, cutting the unharvested beet totals to 13,800 acres in limbo.

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On Oct. 27, however, the company advised growers that because there was no deal with neighboring beet cooperatives to process excess Minn-Dak beets on a toll basis, 12 percent would be destroyed.

"Make sure you contact your crop insurance people before you destroy anything," Knudsen said.

Like an iceberg In a newsletter to growers, Mike Metzger, research agronomist at Minn-Dak, this week offered a set of recommendations for destroying beets.

For tillage, he recommended  "none at all." Tillage costs about $6 to $9 per acre and has disadvantages, he said. Don't till to distribute beets across the field, he said, as they are most evenly distributed where they lie.

"If your intention is to bury the beets to promote rapid degradation, consider that each beet (if left alone) is like an iceberg where over 90 percent of its mass is below the surface," Metzger said. "You'll never achieve as much soil-to-plant contact per individual root with any tillage implement."

Tillage can leave beets on the surface in places where they fail to deteriorate over winter, and it can leave beets vulnerable to flooding, which can plug ditches and culverts.

Untouched beet tops form an insulation blanket for unharvested roots, Metzger said. He suggests running a defoliator or using a flail-shredder over unharvested beets to expose them to more freeze and thaw cycles and speeds degradation.

Beet topping helps release nitrogen, which can be available to subsequent crops as soon as early spring in 2017. A fall 2016 soil test will not be accurate, he emphasized.

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Each ton of beets with yellow tops, if left unharvested, is about five to six pounds per acre of soil nitrogen, according to research studies.

Each ton of green-topped beets contributes 2 pounds per acre of soil nitrogen. So, if the 2016 yield is 30 tons per acre, the soil nitrogen from green-topped beets would account for about 60 pounds per acre of nitrogen.

"It will be best to apply your nitrogen fertilizer as close to planting next spring to help reduce immobilization," Metzger said.

Green vs. gold For phosphorus, use past soil test data for 2017 crops. Banded applications of phosphorus in the spring should be most effective, Metzger said. Follow normal potassium soil tests. Sulfur deficiencies could appear in early 2017, but symptoms should be short-lived.

He offered specific tips for follow-crops on this year's destroyed beet acres: soybeans, increase seeding rates 10 to 12 percent; small grains, add 25 to 30 pounds per acre of nitrogen to maintain high yields; sunflower, add 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre to maximize yield.

For corn follow crops, he advised selecting a "fallow syndrome/purple corn" tolerant hybrid and increase population by 10 percent.

"The high amount of  organic matter will definitely cause some of the available nitrogen to be immobilized," Metzger said. He adds that phosphorus should be applied to a subsequent corn crop, based on soil tests. And remember that  a high amount of phosphorus and nitrogen management "is critical to maximize revenue per acre," he said. To achieve target goals, add 30 to 50 pounds of nitrogen to achieve targeted yields.

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