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Sugarbeet grower 'trying a thing,' with interseeded cover crop experiment

Johnson, who farms near Breckenridge in the southern Red River Valley of Minnesota, spent part of Sept. 1 interseeding a cover crop mixture between the rows of one of his sugarbeet fields.

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Vance Johnson of Breckenridge, Minn., says some late-season weed pressure is showing up in his 2023 sugarbeet crop, especially waterhemp.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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Editor's note: Jeff Beach will be checking up with Vance Johnson throughout the growing season as part of our Follow a Farmer series.

BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. — With the calendar turning to September, Vance Johnson was "trying a thing," as he says on Twitter, with another cover crop experiment.

Closeup of a bucket of cover crop seed.
Vance Johnson of Breckenridge, Minnesota, uses a mix of cover crop seeds on his fields.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

Johnson, who farms near Breckenridge in the southern Red River Valley of Minnesota, spent part of Sept. 1 interseeding a cover crop mixture between the rows of one of his sugarbeet fields.

“I’ve done interseeding, flying over with a plane and I can’t get it to catch very well,” Johnson said.

Johnson used a piece of equipment rented from the Wilkin County Soil and Water Conservation District hoping for better seed to soil contact.

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The hope is to have the cover crop germinate then die off over the winter. But the plants from the dead cover crop plant will be in place to help provide erosion protection.

Closeup of a sugarbeet plant.
Vance Johnson interseeded a cover crop mix between the rows of this sugarbeet field on Sept. 1, 2022. His hope is to have the cover crop emerge to help provide erosion protection but mostly die off during the winter.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

“Hopefully it will survive the harvest and be there to help control some of the winter blowing in the event we get an open winter," Johnson said.

And if there is a wet fall, it may have the benefit of helping equipment move through the field during the October beet harvest.

He said the experiment is on “just a few acres to see what happens.”

September needs to 'behave'

Johnson grows corn, soybeans, wheat and sugarbeets, with some of his land to the northwest near Christine, North Dakota, and some farther northeast near Rothsay, Minnesota.

He also has a test plot looking a different tillage practices and cover crop in sugarbeet field that had been corn in 2022.

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By Sept. 2, Vance Johnson of Breckenridge, Minnesota, had harvested his 2023 wheat crop and was gearing up for corn, soybeans and sugarbeets.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

His wheat crop came off in August, though poor spring weather meant it was the latest he had ever planted wheat.

“Given as late as we went in, yields were pleasantly surprising,” Johnson said.

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He said it produced an average crop of 45 to 50 bushels an acre and good quality.

The wet spring meant that in early June, Johnson was also "trying a thing," planting soybeans into some rye that was 4 feet tall, the tallest cover crop he says he has ever planted into. He said killing it off earlier would have meant that the field would have taken even longer to dry out.

“As far as plantability goes, it worked,” Johnson said. “The true test will come when we pull the combine through the field.”

One field that would have been corn had to go into prevented planting, but the corn and soybeans should be ready to harvest by the end of September.

“We just need September to behave for us,” Johnson said, hoping for “decent heat” to bring the corn crop to maturity, but he expects an average to subaverage corn crop.

The crops are “fairly clean and disease free,” he said.

Waterhemp issue

Where he has some trouble is with weed pressure in his sugarbeets: “That’s turning ugly real fast,” he said.

The main problem is waterhemp, and he says the competition for moisture will cut into yields.

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“Just had issues early on getting our pres (preemergent herbicide) activated for lack of moisture and got behind from there and haven’t been able to get caught up regardless of what we’ve tried,” Johnson said.

He said the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative that processes his sugarbeets at its plant in Wahpeton, North Dakota, is estimating a yield of 23 tons per acre for the 2023 crop.

The beginning of September was looking warm and dry.

“We could definitely take a little bit of rain,” Johnson said.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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