Valuable Component in Diverse Crop Rotation
S ugarbeets comprise just a small percentage of Paul Rasgorshek’s overall crop acreage — 175 acres out of a total of 5,200. But that in no way diminishes the value he places upon this crop....
Sugarbeets comprise just a small percentage of Paul Rasgorshek’s overall crop acreage — 175 acres out of a total of 5,200. But that in no way diminishes the value he places upon this crop. "Beets are very important — and profitable — for our operation. Beets have always been profitable for us," he affirms. That, plus his strong focus on rotational diversification, affirms sugarbeets will remain on this Treasure Valley farm for plenty of years to come. Rasgorshek grew up west of Nampa, Idaho, where his now-retired father, Joe, raised beets. Paul started farming on his own nearby in 1982. Then, in 2004, he made the decision to pick up and move his operation to the less-populated Squaw Creek Canyon area several miles southwest of Nampa, near the Snake River.
The move also allowed him to expand his acreage and cropping diversity. As of 2014, along with sugarbeets, Rasgorshek Farms was growing alfalfa seed, mint, wheat, onion seed and carrot seed. Some years find beans and peas in the rotation. He also produces silage corn and hay for two local dairies. Honeybees and alfalfa leaf cutter bees pollinate the seed crops. The farm’s diversity is central to its sustainability, Paul emphasizes. But it also challenges him and his 15 employees — some of whom have worked there since the late ’80s. "It is very time consuming," he concurs. "Just scheduling and managing irrigation is a real challenge. There’s never a dull moment; we’re pretty much ‘year-round’ farmers." Sugarbeets typically follow alfalfa seed in the Rasgorshek rotation, with the beet ground in turn planted back to wheat. He seldom applies fertilizer for the beets. "Our soils seem to be very high in nitrogen, due to our rotation with mint and other row crops," he says. "The alfalfa ground is pretty mellow when we come back with beets, and there’s probably some mineralization there as well. "We also have very high levels of P and K, along with the abundant nitrogen," Rasgorshek continues. One-foot soil tests in the fall and three-foot tests in the spring guide him — and usually confirm the lack of need for applied N, P and/or K. Mint sludge from his peppermint acreage is composted at one of the dairies, which also adds liquid manure to it. "We spray [the composted sludge] on our ground where we need it," he notes. So does all the residual N suppress sugar content? Perhaps, Rasgorshek allows — but not dramatically. "My average is still around 16.5%," he says, "though I’d like to see it closer to 17 more often." Not surprisingly, however, tonnage is impressive: Rasgorshek Farms averages around 44 tons per acre, year in and year out. Nematodes have always been a challenge for Rasgorshek sugarbeets — dating back decades to when he farmed northwest of Nampa. "We’ve been treating for nematodes since the ’70s," Paul notes, relying on the now-gone Telone and Temik. Fortunately, nematode-tolerant beet seed varieties have stepped into the picture. "They’re not fully ‘resistant,’ " he says, "but we’ve planted some under quite high infestations, and they’ve done pretty well." Those varieties, coupled with his long rotation between beet crops, have kept the nematode issue under control.
'Our soils seem to be very high in nitrogen, due to our rotation with mint and other row crops. We also have very high levels of P and K.’
Some beet producers plant green cover crops (e.g., oilseed radish) to help suppress nematode populations, but Rasgorshek has not done so to date. Other crops’ demand for water when the radishes would need to be planted is a key reason why. "We’re still watering everything else then," he says. Most of Rasgorshek’s row-crop irrigation is via furrow and wheel lines. "We’re on a high-lift project. We pump out of the Snake River; 550 feet is our lift," he notes. "We also have deepwells." He has used polyacrylamide (PAM) for a number of years to reduce sediment loss from watered rows, and he also aids watering efficiency through the use of WaterSense® monitors and neutron probes. All field wastewater is collected and recycled. "Where we farm, there’s nowhere for the water to go, anyway," Rasgorshek observes. "It’s cheaper for us to reuse our wastewater than to pump more water from the high-lift project; plus, it’s just good stewardship. "So we really do ‘wear out’ our water." Since seedbeds are built in the fall, Rasgorshek doesn’t need to water up his beets the following spring. "There’s enough moisture in the beds from the winter." Along with two applications of Roundup, the Treasure Valley grower also relies on an Eptam-Treflan treatment, harrowed in, for weed control in his beets. "With furrow irrigation, you’re always moving dirt, bringing up untreated soil," he remarks. "So I believe the Eptam-Treflan addition really helps. Plus, we use the higher labeled rates of Roundup; we don’t cut rates." Rasgorshek says he has not yet seen any evidence of glyphosate-resistant weeds on his farm — and he attributes that in good part to his cropping diversity and lengthy rotation. The previous owner of his current farm produced all his row crops on a 24-inch / nine-row system. While farming northwest of Nampa, Rasgorshek was on a 22-inch / 12-row regimen. "When we bought this farm, we had to buy everything," he recounts. "I was more concerned about the equipment side of changing than I was about moving the farming operation down here. But it turned out fabulously. The 24-inch-rows / nine-row system has been phenomenal for us." But it did require an equipment change when it came to harvesting sugarbeets. The prior owner used a five-row beet digger for his 24-inch rows. "So we would dig five rows in one pass and four rows in the next; fivefour, five-four all the way across the field," Rasgorshek recalls of the digger he inherited. "I’d had a nine-row [defoliator], and then bought a nine-row WIC when I came out here. So then I wanted a nine-row digger because it would be more efficient." Since his beet acreage was fairly small, however, Rasgorshek couldn’t justify the economics of purchasing a newer beet harvester. "So I chose to go with trying to build a nine-row," he says. A talented local mechanic, who works for Rasgorshek off and on, "is quite a fabricator, so I gave him the idea and my thoughts." They took a six-row Parma machine, half of another Parma — "and we married them together."
The resulting nine-row Rasgorshek lifter-loader has belly chain for cleaning rather than grab rolls. Nor does it have a holding tank. So he purchased a ROPA Big Bear beet cart, which aids with cleaning while also serving as a holding tank. "The Big Bear drives alongside the lifter-loader. When the semis come in, they get loaded; they don’t have to turn — and they’re gone from the field, off to the piling station" about 12 miles away. The digging speed is fairly slow: 2.5 to 2.5 mph, "and we’ve had to speed up the elevator for the tonnage we have with the nine rows," he notes. While the belly chain and the Big Bear do a fairly good job of cleaning, Rasgorshek knows he would require grab rolls if he operated in heavier soils. "We do need a little better cleaning action in the back," he observes. "It’s just a different concept, a different process," he says of his uncommon harvesting system. "If we time it right, the semis never have to make a turn, except to leave the field. Having the cart nearly full, the semis come in, you dump — and away they go. "We probably gain two to three loads a day by doing it this way." Research also ranks high on Paul Rasgorshek’s priority list when it comes to successful sugarbeet production. Amalgamated Sugar Company has established research plots on his farm for a number of years, generating studies on a variety of production issues. "I’ve always been a big believer in the value of the plots — whether they’re here or at Ontario (Ore.) or Twin Falls," Rasgorshek states. ‘That information is important. They’re comparing ‘apples to apples,’ and while the plot data don’t necessarily dictate what’s going to happen on a farm, they do give us very valuable guidelines. "Amalgamated’s research group is just phenomenal," he adds. "They’re very organized and really have a lot to offer to us growers." — Don Lilleboe