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Using sugarbeets in strip-till systems gains interest in North Dakota and Minnesota

The advantages to using strip till include retaining soil moisture when it’s dry and keeping soil in place on windy days, said Brad Brummond, North Dakota State University agricultural extension agent-Walsh County.

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Jay Gudajtes of Minto, N.D., says a new vertical tillage/strip tillage system called Soil Warrior has helped his farm counter the dry conditions by leaving most of the soil undisturbed while planting sugarbeet seeds into moist seedbed strips that are fertilized and only about 9 inches wide. Photo taken April 30, 2021, Minto, N.D. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
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WEST FARGO, N.D. — Interest in using a strip till management system to grow sugarbeets is growing.

North Dakota State University has renewed its research, which originally was conducted between 2007 and 2010 in Prosper, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, said Aaron Hoppe, a North Dakota State University graduate student.

In North Dakota and Minnesota, farmers are strip tilling a small portion of their acreage, and companies, such as General Mills, have funding available for conservation practices such as strip till, Hoppe told farmers and crops specialists at the 52nd annual Sugarbeet Research Reporting session in West Fargo on Jan. 11.

In 2021, there were a total of six on-farm strip till locations in Walsh and Traill counties in North Dakota and in Polk County, Minnesota, Hoppe said. The sugarbeets on the strip till acreage were raised under the respective growers’ production practices.

In Walsh County, NDSU Extension agriculture agent Agent Brad Brummond has worked for the past few years with several sugar beet farmers on strip till projects. Farmers prepare the sugarbeet ground the fall before the crop is planted in the field.

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“Basically what we’re doing, is going into wheat stubble,” Brummond said. Farmers plant the sugarbeets into a 3- to 4-inches wide strip of bare soil that is in between strips of the wheat stubble, he noted.

The sugarbeets grown using the strip-till system are demonstration plots, not research plots, Brummond said. The plots are designed so that people interested in strip till can drive by the fields or walk into them to learn more about the cropping system.

It will take more research to discern whether the strip-till method produces higher sugarbeet yields and whether it affects crop quality, so more studies will be conducted in 2022, Hoppe said.

Brummond believes that it is clear strip till has a positive impact on soil health, and that the Walsh County farmers who are implementing the system recognize that fact.

“My phone rang off the hook last fall (with farmers) talking about strip till,” Brummond said.

“We have a lot of guys moving toward that because it helps them with their soil health issues, it helps them with their erosion issues,” he said.

Brummond expects strip-till sugarbeet acreage will increase to about 800 this spring. That amount, while small, represents an 800% increase from this year, he said.

Brummond credits the increased interest in strip till to the Walsh County demonstration fields which have shown that sugarbeets can successfully be grown under the management system, without sacrificing profit, he said.

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The advantages to using strip till include retaining soil moisture when it’s dry and keeping soil in place on windy days, Brummond said.

“People don’t realize that a loss of a couple of inches of topsoil has a huge price tag on it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the strips act as a barrier that prevent young plants from shearing off under windy conditions, which means that farmers don’t have to replant the crop.

“The fact that we aren't replanting sugarbeets, that's a cost you don’t have to incur,” Brummond said.

Related Topics: SUGARBEETSNORTH DAKOTAMINNESOTACROPSAGRICULTURE RESEARCH
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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