The 2021 growing season got off to a great start for sugarbeet growers in the Red River Valley. Albeit drier than most would like, planting got off to an early and quick start and, for the most part, was uninterrupted for most growers in the region.

Those warm, dry conditions that made planting go so smoothly became a burden over the coming weeks as the seed in the ground was desperate for moisture needed to start germination.

According to the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, the southern end of the Red River Valley (Fargo) received just 12% of its normal rainfall during the month of May. Just 0.35 inches of precipitation fell in Fargo, compared to the five-year average of 2.81 inches.

Similar results were seen in the northern end of the valley (Grand Forks). Just over half of the normal rainfall was seen as 1.39 inches of rain fell during May, compared to the five-year average of 2.68 inches.

The lack of moisture created uneven stands and emergence issues across the valley. Around 10,000 to 15,000 acres of sugarbeets (about 2-3% of the planted acres for American Crystal Sugar Company) had to be replanted, most due to poor emergence.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Amid the driest portion of the spring, growers endured an extreme wind event at the end of May. Sustained winds of 40 to 50 miles per hour sandblasted the young sugarbeets as soil particles whipped across fields, forcing more replants.

The month of June, to date, has been yielded two different results both the opposite ends of the valley. The southern end has received precipitation levels above the five-year average. As of June 28, Fargo has received 3.45 inches of rain, compared to the five-year average of 3.1 inches.

On the other hand, the northern end has gotten just a fraction of its five-year average. Grand Forks has received 1.26 inches to date, which is just 29% of its five-year average of 4.3 inches of rain for the month of June.

Given all that, Harrison Weber, executive director of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, said the sugarbeet crop valley-wide is still in good shape.

“I think we are OK for now. We did receive a little rain here in the last few days. There are certainly pockets that are under more pressure than others, but up and down the valley, generally, I would say we are OK,” he said.

The dry conditions do come as a potential benefit. Cercospora leaf spot, one of the region’s top production challenges for the last several years, thrives in warm, wet conditions. Given the lack of precipitation, and as a result, the lack of humidity. Cercospora could be kept more at bay this year, said Weber.

“It seems like cercospora likes those hot and humid nights, but so far it’s been dry and hot. We are still going to have to be monitoring it and growers are still going to have to be looking for it,” said Weber. “Cercospora has definitely become one of our main production limiters. We are keeping our eye closely on it, but it could be a little bit better for us this year.”