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Number of Red River Valley sugarbeet acres grown using strip tillage management system growing

Strip tillage management systems reduce the amount of topsoil loss that results from wind erosion, decreases wind damage to young sugarbeet plants and conserves moisture.

A sugarbeet is shown from above.
Sugarbeet growers are showing more interest in strip till systems, experts say.
Agweek file photo
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GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Soil conservation concerns have piqued Red River Valley sugarbeet farmers' interest in using the strip tillage method to raise their crop.

Farmers who grow sugarbeets for American Crystal Sugar Co. experimented with strip tillage on slightly under 5,000 acres 2021, said Joe Hastings, American Crystal Sugar Co. general agronomist, during the International Sugar Beet Institute on March 16.

Strip tillage management systems reduce the amount of topsoil loss that results from wind erosion, decreases wind damage to young sugarbeet plants and conserves moisture, Hastings said.

The practice, which involves planting the sugarbeet seed in 3-inch to 4-inch wide strips of bare soil between strips of wheat stubble, initially was researched by North Dakota State University about 15 years ago at sites near Prosper, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota.

Last year, NDSU researchers started studying strip till again, this time using the method on six locations in Walsh and Traill counties in North Dakota and in Polk County, Minnesota. The sugarbeets grown on the 2021 demonstration plots, located on growers’ land, were raised under their respective production practices.

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The plots in Walsh County are designed so that people interested in strip till can walk into the fields or observe crop progress when they drive by.

Some early adopters of using the strip till management system on sugarbeet ground have their own equipment and others are hiring custom companies to do the work, Hastings said.

Attendees of the International Sugar Beet Institute look at booths and equipment.
Attendees of the International Sugar Beet Institute look at booths and equipment on March 17, 2022.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

Craig Nice, who has a custom seeding and tillage business in Minto, North Dakota, did about 2,000 acres of strip tillage for northern Red River Valley sugarbeet farmers last fall. Nice had a booth at ISBI and was enthusiastic about explaining the system.

There is a learning curve involved in the tillage method, Nice said.

“It’s not as easy as dropping it in the ground and going,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure the headlands are right.”

One of the challenges of using a strip till management system for sugarbeet production is that soils in the Red River Valley are heavy clay, which raises concerns among growers about whether the ground will dry out enough to get the sugar beets planted in a timely manner, Hastings said.

The target date to plant sugarbeets is April 1, so growers have to be flexible and may have to alter their strip till plans during wet springs, he said. Meanwhile, not all ground is suited for strip tillage.

Despite those challenges, there is interest in using the method from some of the growers who are “early adapters,” he said.

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“Sugarbeet growers are always willing to be innovative where it makes good sense,” Hastings said.

Researchers at NDSU will conduct more studies this year to determine whether using strip till produces higher sugarbeet yields and whether the cropping method affects crop quality.

The benefits to soil health from strip tillage already are clear, said Brad Brummond, NDSU Extension agriculture agent in Walsh County. He expects the number of acres grown on strip till to increase to at least 800 in his county this spring, which, while a small percentage of total sugarbeet acreage, is a major increase over last year.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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