North Dakota and Minnesota sugarbeet cooperatives look to capitalize on early planting

The 2021 sugarbeet crop is just days away from being put into the ground. Top agronomists at all three sugar cooperatives in North Dakota and Minnesota (American Crystal Sugar Company, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, and Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative) give their latest pre-planting news and notes.

The Sugarbeet Grower file photo.

With sugarbeet planting a matter of days away from kicking into full gear, we took a tour to get pre-planting news and notes from all three North Dakota and Minnesota sugar cooperatives . Starting with the northern-most co-op, we chatted with Joe Hastings, general agronomist for American Crystal Sugar Company. Then we checked in with Mike Metzer, vice president of agriculture and research at Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, and we caught up with Todd Geselius, vice president of agriculture at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative.

American Crystal Sugar Company

Coming off of one of the fastest harvests in the history of the cooperative, American Crystal Sugar hopes to carry that momentum into the 2021 growing season. Joe Hastings is very optimistic about this year’s crop potential heading into planting.

“We are very eager for an early plant this year, where the last few years have been later. When we plant in April, our crop potential will is a lot better. Sugarbeets like an early start,” he said.

The last two years in which American Crystal growers were able to start planting in the month of April were 2016 and 2017. Those are also the most recent growing seasons in which the cooperative averaged over 30 tons per acre. The cooperative averaged 24.8 tons per acre in 2020, its lowest in five years, but a lack of rainfall in August and September negatively affected yield.


Aside from dry conditions, Hastings mentioned that weed pressure will be a concern for growers this year.

“We are going to have a lot of waterhemp pressure, of course. It’s getting to be a big issue in our area and has been for some time,” he said. “Getting those soil-applied herbicides activated is a concern during a dry spring, but that doesn’t mean you don’t put it down.”

Moisture will be needed after planting for multiple reasons. One is to establish the crop and another is to activate any soil-applied herbicides. With the early spring, Hastings said growers might have to do some tillage to kill weeds or maybe a pre-type herbicide application to burn down any weeds that have been established.

“Kochia can be an early-season weed and can establish itself in the field early especially if there is no tillage,” Hastings added.

“Once planting gets rolling, it should go quick. It would be nice to get that perfect rain after planting to get everything going, then timely rains afterward. We have seen some very good yields in dry years because there are fewer issues with root disease. We just need to get some nice, timely rains, that is our big concern,” said Hastings.

Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative

At Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, Mike Metzger has sights set on another potential 30-plus ton crop.

“The last time we’ve gotten going with planting in April was 2016 and 2017. Both of those were 30-plus ton crops. Hopefully, history repeats itself,” he said. “The way it looks, we will have a lot of our beets in before the end of April. It makes a guy worry a little bit about frost and the potential for a major replant, but it’s also setting up to be a good year.”

Sugarbeets are somewhat unique compared to others crops because the co-ops control the harvest date.


“If a corn crop gets in a little bit later, growers just harvest it later. Oct. 1 is the same time every year,” said Metzger. “The earlier you can get the beets in, the wider that window is.”

“Really, we don’t start to freak out until we get around May 12,” he explained. “From that point then, the window is closed far enough that you’ll just never make up that yield potential. Our growers lose $120 per acre per week after May 12. For a 500-acre grower, that’s $60,000 per week he would lose for every week beyond May 12 that you don’t get those beets in. It’s a big deal for us to get planted before then.”

This year at Minn-Dak, growers are allotted to plant 1.42 to 1.52 acres per share of stock. That comes to out 104,000–105,000 acres in total for the cooperative.

Cercospora leaf spot continues to be Minn-Dak’s number one production challenge. However, the co-op has a new tool in its toolbox to fight the foliar disease.

“We are all in on KWS’s new CR+ genetics. Sixty percent of our crop will contain that new CR+ tolerance. We’re excited to see what that can do for us in terms of Cercospora control and for our growers to start receiving that benefit.

The Sugarbeet Grower file photo.

Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative (SMBSC)

Todd Geselius noted that planting conditions are just about perfect, except for a small lack of moisture, for growers in southern Minnesota.


“The temperature has been great. The soil temperature is around 45 to 50 degrees. That’s plenty warm to get beets going. If the moisture is right, I don’t have a problem with planting this early. It’s always best if you can spread out your risk a little bit. It makes me a little bit nervous when we plant 80% of the co-op in five days, which can happen. If you get the frost at the wrong time, then that is a big risk.”

Similar to Hastings and Metzger, Geselius said that the early planting opportunity can pay dividends down the road come harvest time.

“Yield potential is really about how much sun those plants can capture,” he said. “Since the beets don’t reach physiological maturity before we harvest them, the longer they are out in the field capturing sun, the more yield potential they have. From that standpoint, planting earlier is better.”

As they have been the past few years, Geselius said waterhemp and Cercospora leaf spot remain the top production challenges for SMBSC.

“There are always a few things we are always worried about here at Southern Minn. The first one is we have a lot of glyphosate-resistant waterhemp. Making sure we get good weed control is really important. We are pretty dependent on soil-applied chemistry, so we need some timely rains along the way to activate those herbicides,” he said.

“The other big thing we worry about is Cercospora leaf spot. I’ve got to give our growers a lot of credit the last couple of years. They have really been working hard at it and they’ve done a great job keeping it under control. I’m hoping that if we can stay at it again this year, we can really get our inoculum load down to a more manageable level,” Geselius noted.

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