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‘Serving The Nation’s Sugarbeet Community Since 1963’ Volume 50 Number 5 July/August 2011

Page 8 Sugar Publications 4601 16th Ave. N. Fargo, ND 58102

Page 14

Phone: (701) 476-2111 Fax: (701) 476-2182 E-Mail: sugar@forumprinting.com Web Site: www.sugarpub.com

— Feature Articles —

Publisher: Sugar Publications

Early Harvest: What to Dig . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Company ag officials discuss prepile field selection

Believers in Strip Till . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

General Manager & Editor: Don Lilleboe Advertising Manager: Heidi Wieland (701) 476-2003 Graphics: Forum Communications Printing

The Sugarbeet Grower is published six times annually (January, February, March, April/May, July/August, November/December) by Sugar Publications, a division of Forum Communications Printing. North American sugarbeet producers receive the magazine on a complimentary basis. Annual subscription rates are $12.00 domestic and $18.00 for foreign subscribers. Advertising in The Sugarbeet Grower does not necessarily imply endorsement of a particular product or service by the publisher.

The Breidenbachs of Colorado

‘European Presence’ in Michigan Harvest . . . . . . . 12 Roggenbucks use German-made harvesters, cart & cleaner/loader

Energy Beets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 North Dakotans pushing biofuel industry development

California Group Also Explores Beets as Biofuel . . 16 Mendota project could bring sugarbeets back to Central Valley

Energy Beet Agronomics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Yield trials & variety development moving ahead

— Regular Pages — Dateline: Washington . . . . . . . . . . 10 Budget battles & the next farm bill

Visit Our Website! Now Updated & Expanded!

Write Field . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

www.sugarpub.com

Around the Industry . . . . . . . . . . . 19

Humility on the Golf Course . . .

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011

— Front Cover — A 2010 harvest scene on the Aaron Wetterlin farm in western Minnesota’s Clay County. Photo: Don Lilleboe

Who, what & where it’s happening

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Early Harvest: What to Dig

Photo: Don Lilleboe

Sugar Company Ag Officials Discuss Factors In Prepile Field Selection Decisions

ost — but not all — sugarbeet processors conduct an early harvest (prepile) campaign to get their factories up and rolling prior to the initiation of the main harvest season. Once the factory begins operating, of course, it must be supplied with a constant flow of beets until the main harvest starts a few weeks later, generating the “mother lode” that will keep things humming for months. The percentage of the total crop that’s actually delivered during prepile varies from district to district and year to year, but a general range would be 10 to 20. It can go even higher (as it did in Michigan last year, where it was over 25%). The primary consideration for both grower and processor when it comes to early harvest beet delivery is neither mysterious nor surprising: maximizing revenue, minimizing problems — both short- and long-term. Sometimes the decisions regarding which acres to deliver during prepile are fairly straightforward; at other times, the selection call is decidedly less clear-cut. With that in mind, The Sugarbeet Grower recently surveyed ag officials at several

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sugar companies for their thoughts regarding the prioritization of fields for early harvest delivery.

Which Fields First? Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, says his company uses a simple rule of thumb: “Harvest the worst first.” It’s a mantra shared by most companies. “Whether the ‘worst’ is caused by disease, late planting, hail, weeds or other factors, you will maximize sugar production by keeping your good fields untouched for as long as possible,” Knudsen observes. “We always prefer to get as many diseased fields harvested as soon as possible.” In the end, though, it remains the grower’s choice, he adds. Paul Pfenninger, vice presidentagriculture for Michigan Sugar Company sees the matter similarly. “We really look at disease in plant development,” he says. “If Rhizoctonia or Cercospora leafspot got away on them for any reason, they’re not going to get a better yield” than what’s already there.

“If there’s any one reason why a grower delivers early, from our standpoint, it would be disease and/or poor quality beets that will not store well.” Other ingredients enter into the mix too, of course. Fields testing higher in nitrogen usually are not recommended for early harvest due to their lower sugar percentage. “High nitrogen levels or above-average mineralization in August could reduce the sugar content and would make it unfavorable to consider that field for delivery during prepile season,” points out Nick Arends, American Crystal Sugar Company’s ag strategy development manager. That’s one reason why American Crystal encourages growers to take prepile delivery sequence into account even prior to planting their beets in the spring. “We would typically recommend 20-30 units less nitrogen on a field that is planned on being harvested early in the prepile season to maximize recoverable sugar per ton,” Arends explains. Then there’s the other end of the season — i.e., planning for the postbeet crop. “Growers also must take into account what preparations need to be considered for the crop going into that field next season,” says Stacey Camp, agricultural manager for Amalgamated Sugar Company’s Mini-Cassia factory district. “They may need to fall work the ground for the next crop.” Getting a cover crop well established on harvested beet ground prior to freeze-up also can weigh into the equation. “Some of our growers — particularly in western Nebraska and northeastern Colorado — are on highly erodible soils,” notes Kent Wimmer, director of shareholder relations for Western Sugar Cooperative. “They want to get a cover crop in yet that fall, so that’s another criterion coming into play.”

Whole Fields or Headlands? Some growers opt to harvest entire fields in order to fulfill their early harvest delivery obligations; others instead remove headlands and “strikeout” field centers on most or all their fields. Again, it’s a matter of grower preference, not something the sugar company dictates. “In our area, growers much prefer to harvest headlands and strikeouts during prepile and leave the rest of the field for full campaign,” reports Todd Geselius, vice president-agriculture for Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. “This is largely driven by the concern for getting their other crops

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


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harvested in a timely manner after the beet harvest is completed. Since harvesting the headlands and strikeouts is relatively more time consuming, they try to get that done when they have more time available.� Kent Wimmer says there’s a mixture of both approaches in the large four-state region encompassed by Denver-based Western Sugar. “We might get into an area where we have to mandate early harvest, and some people might not want to. A lot of them will then take out headland rows or otherwise open a field.� Western growers can ‘shift’ early harvest tonnage obligations over to willing neighbors, without penalty. But if no one else agrees to ‘cover’ by delivering more tons, that grower is then obliged to do so. In Michigan, where many fields are in the 40-acre range, compared to significantly larger fields in states further west, “guys who want to get a lot done at a given time will open up the fields, taking out the headlands and ditch banks. So when they pull in during ‘peak’ harvest, it’s ready to roll,� Paul Pfenninger says. “The downside of that is, if it gets wet and stays wet, where there’s still beets, they tend to soak up some moisture and help dry out the ground a bit. But once you

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‘Prepile is a great time for growers to shed and harvest their poorerproducing fields or portions of fields, leaving the healthiest to last. That maximizes sugar production while keeping poor-quality beets from going into long-term storage.’ open up that headland and the water sits in those cavities where the beets were, it can be come an issue.� Most American Crystal growers use prepile to open up all their fields, harvesting headlands and creating strikeouts, says Nick Arends. Some growers — especially in the larger acreage category — do harvest whole fields during the prepile campaign, however. “They have figured out that if they manage their fields correctly and identify highquality fields, they can utilize the prepile system to their advantage by harvesting entire fields,� Arends explains.

The Compensation Angle Though each has different features, every sugar company has some type of system in place to compensate growers for the tonnage and/or sugar content they typically sacrifice by harvesting a field in August or early September versus during the main harvest later in the fall. Therein lies both opportunity and risk, depending upon how astutely a grower manages his early harvest schedule. “With our system, growers are competing against the Red River Valley daily average recoverable sugar/ton throughout the entire prepile period — a number that is not known when growers start delivering prepile beets,� Arends explains. “Growers can still maximize revenue by picking the best quality fields for their farm; but if a grower knows he will be below average quality for that day, [he] can transfer [his] prepile quota to another grower who is willing to deliver additional prepile beets.� The American Crystal prepile payment system is designed to compensate shareholders for unrealized gains in tonnage and sugar. Growth and sugar premiums are based on “growth per day.“ Tonnage growth is a fixed percentage each day, while sugar growth is calculated on a regression from the beginning of prepile to its end, with an additional factor for stockpile sugar at the 50% complete point. The most common error, Arends says, is that “too

many growers continue the ‘status quo’ approach,� routinely delivering from headlands and strikeouts rather than sampling fields prior to prepile and then making a more-educated decision on which fields to prepile in order to maximize revenue for their farm. Michigan Sugar currently has a tonnage premium for early harvest beets, with plans underway to institute a quality factor as well (though perhaps not in time for the 2011 harvest). The present MSC policy gives growers 97.25% of their station average sugar content, regardless of what their own beets’ content is. That naturally tends to suppress the incentive to incur lateseason inputs, such as a final fungicide application for Cercospora leafspot. Western Sugar pays a per-day tonnage premium on beets delivered during the early harvest campaign. “It’s on an escalating scale: the earlier you harvest, the bigger the premium� explains Kent Wimmer. Also, “during regular harvest we use an assessment of sugar loss to molasses. During early harvest, that sugar loss to molasses assessment is waived.�

Summing Up No matter how well a producer has planned for the early harvest phase of the growing season, there always will be some unknowns, some uncertainty. Weather, of course, heads the list. “Weather is the biggest factor that can change the order of fields to be harvested,� affirms Amalgamated’s Stacey Camp. “Also, every grower has other crops to deal with� that influence where and how one allocates labor and equipment at a given time. Knowing one’s fields “intimately� helps avoid potential problems during prepile — as well as during the rest of the harvest season, emphasizes MinnDak’s Tom Knudsen. “I consider [prepile] a great time for growers to shed and harvest their poorer-producing fields or portions of fields,� he says, “leaving the healthiest to last.� That approach maximizes sugar production while keeping poor-quality beets from going into long-term storage, he points out. “It seems that every grower has a little different philosophy about the prepile process and what is best for their operation,� summarizes Southern Minnesota’s Todd Geselius. “Having said that, growers understand what is important to the cooperative — and they do an outstanding job of making decisions that provide the most benefit for everyone.� — Don Lilleboe �

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


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Photos: Don Lilleboe

Breidenbach Brothers partners include, left to right: Luke, Dave, Jack and Steve. Steve is the father of Dave and Jack; Luke is Dave’s son. Dave’s other son, Don, also is a partner in the longtime family farm, based near Iliff, Colo.

Believers in Strip Till The Breidenbachs of N.E. Colorado he Breidenbach sugarbeet legacy in northeastern Colorado goes back a long way — all the way, in fact, to 1905 when Frank Breidenbach began growing the crop for the new beet factory at Sterling. So much has changed since then, of course. But the Breidenbach farming enterprise — now comprised of one of

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Frank’s grandsons, two great-grandsons and two great-great-grandsons — has continued producing sugarbeets and evolving with the times. Today, the family operation includes Stephen, his sons Dave and Jack, along with Dave’s sons, Don and Luke. Together, they farm 5,000 acres of Logan County ground, including 1,100 acres of sugar-

beets, another 2,500 of corn and 1,400 in alfalfa. Ninety percent of their acreage is under center-pivot irrigation systems that utilize ditch and reservoir water. The Breidenbachs also run 400 Angus mother cows, wintering them on corn stalks from November through March. One of the biggest changes in recent years has been the Breidenbachs’ transition to strip-till production of their row crops. They began strip tilling in 2008, and by the following year had converted 100% of their sugarbeet and corn acreage over to the system. They’re hardly alone. As of 2009, about 30% of Colorado sugarbeet acres were under strip till; by 2011, the level was around 35%. In neighboring Nebraska, half of Western Sugar Cooperative shareholders’ acreage was in strip till as of two years ago; now it’s closer to 60%. The region-wide trend has been largely driven by (1) less tillage and hence better conservation of soil moisture, (2) early spring wind erosion protection provided by the inter-row crop residue, (3) significant fuel savings and reduced equipment wear due to fewer passes through the field, and (4) the ability to apply fertilizer with the strip-till pass. It also has gone handin-hand with the ability to plant Roundup Ready® sugarbeets. “I tell people that strip till, Roundup Ready and Trimble® (GPS) are, together, as big a change in farming as going from a horse to a tractor,” Jack affirms. “It’s a total system.” Annual precipitation in the area averages around 14-15 inches, “so conserving moisture in the spring is huge,” Jack continues. “I think that we’ve probably ‘saved’ two inches of moisture by moving away from conventional till — and, the texture of our soil is so much better.” That in turn contributes to improved water infiltration, not only during the irrigation cycle, but when Mother Nature turns on the spigot. “We tend to get hard rains,” Jack says. “With conventional till, that water just runs off; but with this tillage system, it doesn’t.” The reduced damage from wind erosion has been a huge benefit, he adds. “We get some vicious spring winds, and we’ve [previously] lost up

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


For the past quarter century, the Breidenbachs have used a custom-built push-tractor system to keep trucks moving in sloping fields and wet conditions during harvest. “It’s safer and easier than hooking up chains,� Jack notes. “You can just hook up, push them through a wet spot, and release.� The disks on the back of the push tractor fill in the center-pivot unit’s deep wheel tracks prior to passage by the beet lifter and trucks.

to a third of the beets,� Jack recounts. Replants have averaged less than 5% the past three years, however, while plant stands, as well as final yields, have steadily increased. The Briedenbachs averaged 29 tons and 17% sugar last year. The Breidenbachs follow both corn and alfalfa with strip-tilled beets. They use a 12-row Orthman unit pulled by a JD 8530, tilling to a depth of 8-10 inches. Liquid fertilizer goes down with the Orthman, while starter is added with the planter. Because they graze cattle on much of their ground and likewise are very busy in the fall with row-crop harvesting, the strip-till pass is performed in the spring — typically late February or early March, as weather allows. On corn ground, they’ll typically till at an angle to the old corn rows. Planting usually gets underway in early April. When farming conventionally, the Breidenbachs were performing up to eight or nine field operations prior to planting the sugarbeets — plowing, mulching twice, two land plane passes, and double bedding. “If it wasn’t dry enough, we’d go till it again to make sure it (the soil moisture) was all gone!� Jack quips, tongue in cheek. Now their entire program is comprised of the single strip-till pass, followed by the planter. The Breidenbachs estimate that the combination of growing Roundup Ready beets under a strip-till system has bolstered their yields by around three tons per acre on average. “We couldn’t have done it (strip tilling) without the Roundup Ready,� Dave observes. “Because we couldn’t get [ade-

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011

‘It’s just a lot easier to get a good stand. I wouldn’t go back.’ quate] control from the previous herbicides, we’d still have had to cultivate. “The [strip-tilled] seedbed is so

much better than it was under conventional,� he adds. “We have overall better soil health, including more earthworms. And we have much less soil erosion from wind due to having that old-crop residue on top. “It’s just a lot easier to get a good stand. I wouldn’t go back.� — Don Lilleboe �

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Dateline: Washington uring June and July, Washington was consumed by the theatrical negotiations among our government leaders in their efforts to avert defaulting on the nation’s debts on August 2. The size and timing of the spending cuts and a pitched battle over tax increases as part of the package have created major political challenges in achieving a solution. Most members of Congress, however, have a clear determination that a solution must be achieved, because the ramifications of inaction will negatively impact our nation and every citizen in a significant way. On various occasions, the agriculture community has sent letters to the President and congressional leaders to express concern that agriculture not be asked to bear more than its fair share of federal spending cuts. In addition, it is very important that whatever the level of reductions required as the result of the negotiations, the policy changes should be left up to the committees of jurisdiction (i.e., the agriculture committees) in Congress. These committees understand the intricacies and the priorities of policies that impact agriculture. One of the key questions in the debt debate is, “Do you do a ‘big deal’ with major changes, or string this process out over time with multiple smaller deals?” The real answer is to do the big deal once. Make the painful decisions and lay out the new parameters, and then let the policymakers conform to meet the new spending constraints. If uncertainty lingers month after month with future polit-

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By Luther Markwart Executive Vice President American Sugarbeet Growers Assn.

ical standoffs and tough political votes, committees are paralyzed in their efforts to craft policies that must be sustained for years to come. How would you write a farm bill if you were never really certain of the dollars available to fund a five-year bill? Once the ag committees get a spending number, the real policy debate over the next farm bill will begin. Stay tuned.

the visits was the ASGA sugarbeet ink pen (with a floating beet) that was designed by ASGA’s Brianne Blevins. Our outstanding summer intern, Heather Carlquist, was responsible for assembling all of the call materials. We have a great team behind our growers.

n mid-July, your grower leaders walked miles upon miles of hallways on Capitol Hill, talking with hundreds of lawmakers and staff. The message was simple and clear: “We have a no-cost sugar policy, and it is working for growers, processors, bankers, consumers and taxpayers.” It was a message that was well received. You would be extremely proud of the job they did as ambassadors on your behalf. They left their farms during very busy times to do critically important work, and I ask that you express your deepest appreciation to them for their time and effort to make these visits. A special “thank you” also goes out to ASGA Vice President Ruthann Geib for a massive undertaking to prepare and coordinate this effort. One of the coveted handouts during

It is our sincere hope that a draft of the extensive Roundup Ready® Environmental Impact Statement will be available for public review sometime this fall. The draft will have a time period during which the public can submit comments in support of or opposition to the EIS. Just as we did last winter, numerous comments of support from our industry will play an important part in USDA’s consideration and determination on the future status of the technology. May 2012 remains the expectation as to when a final deregulation decision will be made by USDA.

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The message was simple and clear: ‘We have a nocost sugar policy, and it is working for growers, processors, bankers, consumers and taxpayers.’

Roundup Ready Environmental Impact Statement

2012 ASGA Annual Meeting Save the date for the 2012 ASGA Annual Meeting: February 9-11 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotel in Orlando, Fla. Reservations must be made through the ASGA website to receive the group room rate of $239, which will be offered until December 19. Online meeting registration will be available beginning November 1. Visit the ASGA website for details — www.americansugarbeet.org. ❖

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


Planted Acres Up Almost 6% Over ’10 USDA’s June 30-released planted acreage estimate for the nation’s 2011 sugarbeet crop came in at nearly 1.24 million acres. That’s almost 6% above the 2010 level of 1.17 million acres. It also was higher than the March 2011 initial projection of 1.19 million. On a percentage basis, the biggest rise is in North Dakota, where USDA is estimating 240,000 planted acres this year, compared to 217,000 in 2010 — a

10.6% hike. At a projected 475,000 planted acres, Minnesota comes in 5.8% above that state’s 2010 level of 449,000. At 176,000, Idaho’s planted acreage is 3% higher than in 2010. At 152,000, the Michigan acreage level is 3.4% above last year. Though California planted area is estimated to be down by only 100 acres this year, that level would be the lowest beet acreage on record for the state. ❖

Planted U.S. Sugarbeet Acreage: 2009, 2010 & 2011* California Colorado Idaho Michigan Minnesota Montana Nebraska North Dakota Oregon Wyoming United States

2009 25,300 35,100 164,000 138,000 464,000 38,400 53,000 225,000 10,600 32,400 1,185,800

2010 25,100 28,900 171,000 147,000 449,000 42,600 50,000 217,000 10,300 30,500 1,171,400

2011* 25,000 29,300 176,000 152,000 475,000 44,800 53,000 240,000 10,900 31,500 1,237,500

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* Estimated June 2011 Source: USDA-NASS

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THE SUGARBEET GROWER (Upper Midwest) July/August 2011

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Beet Tailings Help Remove Phosphate from Water Florida Researchers Develop Effective Method University of Florida research project has demonstrated the effectiveness of a partially burned organic matter called “biochar” to remove phosphate from water. The laboratory study used sugarbeet tailings. The researchers started by collecting solid residues left after beet tailings were fermented in an anaerobic digester, which yields methane gas. The material was baked at about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to make biochar. The biochar was added to a water-phosphate solution and mixed for 24 hours. It removed about three-fourths of the phosphate — much better results than those obtained with other compounds, including commercial water-treatment materials. The phosphate-laden biochar can be applied directly to soils as a slow-release fertilizer. This project was reported on in Bioresource Technology. The UF research team plans to investigate whether biochar could remove nitrogen from wastewater. The team also has been testing the potential for biochar to purify water of heavy metals, including lead and copper. A key challenge is to make this biomass technology more cost-effective. One of the UF researchers helped design, build and operate an anaerobic digester at the Moorhead factory of American Crystal Sugar Company. The digester, which used beet tailings similar to those in the UF study, worked well. However, the economics were not favorable, and research halted once the project’s grant funding ended. ❖

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Talk About Challenging! Every veteran sugarbeet grower has memories of at least a few harvest seasons where Mother Nature’s water spigot seemingly never shuts off. One of the toughest northern Red River Valley harvests in memory has to have been that of 1959. The narrative below tells the story of that year’s extraordinarily challenging harvest season in southern Manitoba. It is excerpted from Sugar Farmers of Manitoba, a book published by the Manitoba Beet Growers Association in 1968. Sugarbeets were grown and processed in Manitoba from 1940 until 1995, when the Rogers Sugar factory at Fort Garry (Winnipeg) closed its doors. Hopefully history will not repeat itself — at least in terms of these kinds of conditions — anytime soon.

old autumn rains began to fall late in September with the harvest barely a week underway. Up to seven and a half inches came down at one time, soaking to the skin the men on the harvesting machines. The temperature was barely above freezing. The rain continued unceasingly, making the fields a morass of mud and beets, into October when the temperature fell below freezing and the rain turned to snow. Soon, the temperature fell well below zero, and by Nov. 1 the ground was frozen solid with 50 per cent — 135,000 tons — of the beet crop still in it. “With the persistence that only farmers with their backs to the wall could display, we started harvest in earnest when the ground was frozen,” said Lee Tully. “The harvesters started to roll day and night; beets were piled in the fields until the ground was sufficiently frozen to carry trucks. Many men worked around the clock until exhaustion forced them to get some sleep. The mercury dropped to zero and then to 10 below. Still the harvesters went until the middle of December when the factory, running out of beets, was forced to shut down, stopping harvesting operations. Twenty per cent of the acreage was harvested after freeze-up, leaving about one-third unharvested. The tonnage was cut to 192,000 from the estimated 270,000. The sugar content fell to 13.8 per cent from 17.2 per cent the year before. The heavier soil areas to the east were hardest hit. . . . At the peak of the harvest, the farmers were working in one to two feet of snow. It was a problem just to find the row of beets. The ground got so hard that the steel slicing knives and digging wheels would break off the harvesters, forcing a halt until they were repaired. At night, which came about 5 p.m., a light would be attached to the harvester and operations would proceed by the glare of one bare bulb. . . . Not all was misery. Some farmers were fortunate enough to begin harvest immediately on Sept. 14; they were nearly finished by the time the rains came in the last week of September. . . . Many growers would probably have been willing to harvest until New Year’s to get their crop in, had the factory not closed down. . . . With numbed fingers and frozen faces, white like snowmen from the falling snow, they carried on. Their attitude was not one of defeat or despair, although there was lots of groaning and moaning, but a hope that 1960 would be an improvement. ❖

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THE SUGARBEET GROWER (Upper Midwest) July/August 2011

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EU Faces Sugar Shortage; Could Congress Position U.S. Likewise? — Commentary from the American Sugar Alliance — n 2005 the European Union (EU) overhauled its sugar policy, sharply cutting back domestic production and increasing reliance on imports. Now, six years later, the consequences of being so dependent on foreign sugar suppliers in today’s highly volatile world sugar market are starting to surface. Reuters reported in June, “Some German retailers are limiting the amount of sugar that customers can buy to 4 kilogrammes per purchase due to a shortage.” Rationing sugar should bring back a lot of bad memories for America. We were in the same boat during World War II and were forced to ration sugar in 1942 because foreign supplies dried up. In fact, the U.S. sugar policy we have today — different than the EU’s policy because it operates at no cost to taxpayers and without subsidy checks — was constructed by Congress to ensure an adequate supply of homegrown sugar. Despite the lessons of America’s past and the EU’s present, some in Congress are again looking to make us dependent on foreign supplies. Four bills have been introduced to do just that, albeit with little fanfare. People with impressive credentials are cautioning U.S. lawmakers of falling

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into a potentially devastating trap. Retired Army General Wesley Clark, a former presidential candidate and Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, wrote in a February article about food rationing: “The harsh reality is America’s political leaders must take appropriate measures today to ensure that farmers do not become an endangered species tomorrow — a loss we cannot afford. “I am no farm policy expert, but I know about national security, and I know that farmers are as important today as they were in 1942,” Clark concluded. “As a new Congress debates America’s future . . . , they should think of the 210,000 farms that produce 80% of the country’s agricultural output as a thin green line standing between prosperity and disaster.” Patrick Chatenay, a London-based agricultural consultant who has worked closely with EU sugar producers, agrees. “The dismantling of EU sugar policy held unexpected consequences, one of which was to dramatically increase supply uncertainty and price fluctuations,” he said. “Sugar is a vital ingredient in the food supply and in key biochemical processes, and to hand over control of its supply to foreign nations isn’t wise. As

seen in the very recent past, food commodity export bans do happen.” Since the EU sugar policy change, just 18 of the EU’s 27 member states have continued to produce sugar, down from 23 in 2005, according to a July 8 International Sugar Journal article. Only France, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Benelux are still producing a surplus, the article noted, and the resulting concentrated industry in the EU has left some of the 18 states producing just half the amount of sugar as before. The problems surfacing in the EU probably wouldn’t surprise McKeanyFlavell Company of Oakland, Calif. The commodity research firm, which provides counsel to U.S. food manufacturers and sugar producers, predicted a dire fate for U.S. food companies if imports replaced domestic production. Volatile prices, inconsistent quality and delivery issues would result if the domestic food industry had to depend on foreign sugar, their 2009 study concluded. “Our recommendation: be careful. Significantly greater United States dependence on imported sugar may not guarantee lower sugar pricing over the long term,” read the report. In addition to pricing concerns, the study examined other headaches that food manufacturers would face without America’s sugar industry. Among them: consistency of supply; consistency of quality; the form in which sugar is delivered; and “just-in-time delivery,” a term used to describe the domestic sugar delivery chain where sugar producers are responsible for storage, handling and transportation under precise delivery schedules. “[W]e must recognize the value U.S. sugar producers offer to consumers,” wrote McKeany-Flavell. “Providing consistent quality and supply, in the requested packaged form, and through just-in-time deliveries . . . is a very complex and difficult process that cannot be recreated overnight, if at all, through a 100% sugar import program.” America is already more dependent on foreign suppliers than most would think. Trade deals have forced the United States to be the second biggest sugar importer in the world — imports account for approximately one-quarter of the market — and low prices in past years forced 33 U.S. sugar facilities to close between 1996 and 2008. As Wesley Clark said, the time has come to hold the thin green line. And Congress could take a big step in that direction by keeping current sugar policy, and current domestic sugar production, in place. ❖

THE SUGARBEET GROWER (Upper Midwest) July/August 2011


‘European Presence’ In Michigan Harvest

Photos: Don Lilleboe

Roggenbucks Utilize German-Built Ropa ‘Tigers,’ ‘Maus’ & ‘Big Bear’ to Bring in Their Beet Crop

Above: One of two Ropa ‘Tiger’ self-propelled harvesters owned by the Roggenbucks, who farm near Harbor Beach, Mich. They purchased their first one in 2003. Below: Doug, Jim and Mike Roggenbuck of Michigan’s Helena Valley Farms.

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ere it not for the American-made semis rumbling to and from field perimeters, visitors to Helena Valley Farms during the sugarbeet harvest season could be excused for wondering if they weren’t actually somewhere in Europe rather than the Thumb region of eastern Michigan. Two huge Ropa “Tiger” self-propelled harvesters move up and down the field, each dumping its topped and lifted beets into a 34ton-capacity “Big Bear” track cart. The cart in turn unloads its contents on field headlands, where the beets sit for at least a couple days before being run through a self-propelled “Maus” — another Ropa-built unit that cleans and loads the piled beets into trucks for the trip to the factory. Together, those four machines represent a very big investment for their owners — around $900,000. But for the Roggenbucks of Helena Valley Farms, the Ropa implements also represent big savings — savings in labor, savings in use of other harvest-related equipment, and savings in field traffic. Father Mike and brothers Doug and Jim Roggenbuck were the first U.S. sugarbeet producers to purchase a German-built “Tiger” harvester. They bought it new in 2003 through southwestern Ontario growers John Noorloos and Eugen Burgin, who operate the Ropa franchise for North America. After expanding their beet acreage, the Roggenbucks bought a used second Tiger in 2005. Two years later they purchased a used Maus for their Huron and Sanilac County-based operation. The most recent addition to their harvest package, the Big Bear cart, was purchased new for the 2010 harvest. Before traveling the Ropa route, “we had two toppers, two harvesters and four carts,” in a given field, Jim recounts. That meant eight drivers — compared to a total of three to operate the two Ropa harvesters and Big Bear cart. The Roggenbucks simultaneously transitioned from 30-inch rows down to 20s when first switching over to the Tiger; so they top and dig six 20-inch rows with each harvester. Helena Valley Farms currently includes 1,500 acres of sugarbeets within its cropping rotation. Truck traffic on their heavy clay soils can produce both traction challenges and compaction problems during a wet harvest season. Even before they bought the Big Bear, the Roggenbucks kept trucks out of the fields, instead carting everything to field edges to eventually be loaded by the Maus into waiting semi trailers. The Roggenbucks actually bought the Big

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THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


I’m going golfing with Michael. It happens about once a year. You’d think I’d get smart, forget about golf, Just go along and drink beer.

By David Kragnes

t’s easy in the winter to plan big. It’s easy to think somehow those long days in June can never be overfilled. And July — why, July has no harvest or planting, so there will be plenty of time to read a book in a hammock as well as learn something new that challenges. Perhaps it’s a carryover from my school days when the long days of summer allowed such a wonderful change for this boy who felt trapped indoors. The summer days I remember seemed long enough to get almost anything done; and so, well, I don’t think twice about promising to host the whole family at the lake for a weekend. The local clubs I belong to are holding a special event? No problem, the sun is up 18 hours, I can farm early and help out. Grind some stumps and re-landscape the yard? Easy. Move a shed, build a bin, stain the house, weed the garden? No problem. Suddenly the calendar is full and the grandkids’ T-ball games aren’t yet listed. Wednesday night motorcycle runs haven’t been accounted for, the harsh reality of grain harvest is looming, and I haven’t been fishing. Golf hasn’t been mentioned yet because for the most part I don’t like golf. But the local sugarbeet groups I have been a part of for so long always schedule a couple rounds each summer. I make at least one event just to see friends I have worked with and catch up on what’s going on in their lives. It is always a humbling experience.

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Bear because they had a nice problem: “Our yields had increased, and we weren’t able to make a full round with the harvester,” Jim explains. Soil compaction also is reduced by the wide flotation tires on the Tiger harvester, the Roggenbucks point out. The offset positioning of the unit’s three axles likewise lessens compaction by spreading tire contact and machine weight over a broader soil zone. Jim notes that since the Maus cleans while loading, Helena Valley Farms’ beets are hauled direct to the factory, not to a company piling site. “The beets are a lot easier to clean up after sitting on the headlands for two days,” he affirms. The Roggenbucks have been very pleased with the topping and digging performance of both Tiger self-propelled harvesters. Though there are a lot of components — the electrical and

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011

Each year I give him a new chance To make me look just like a fool. I don’t even have the right kind of shirt. And Mike, well, he’s always dressed cool. Some guys seem to think golfing Is a sociable summertime sport. But those guys don’t drive the ball seven times, Then three putt and still come up short. I concentrate on my backswing ’Til the sweat’s beaded up on my brow. And yet when I’ve swung, I’ve missed the ball clean Or dug a deep trench like a plow. Though Mike would never make fun of My complete lack of golfing finesse, Waiting for me, lost in the trees, Surely must cause him some stress. Mike says the score ain’t important. But once more like clockwork he wins. I add up the strokes, then grovel and whine. Mike, well, he stands there and grins.

David Kragnes farms near Felton, Minn. He is a former chairman of American Crystal Sugar Co., and currently serves on the board of directors of CoBank.

hydraulic systems are complex — “in eight years, we’ve made no modifications,” Jim reports. They also like the digging shoe (compared to pinch wheels on standard lifters) and depth control offered by the Tiger. “We can control the depth as we move across the field,” Doug notes. “The header floats independently of the main unit, following the contours of the ground. It works on the same principle as the flex head on a grain combine.” The system allows “on the go” adjustment from the cab of both topping and lifting mechanisms. Beet cleaning starts with the grab rolls located on the header unit. The beets are then conveyed on to three cleaning turbines (baskets), whose spinning speed can be adjusted from the cab. They’re then transported into the Tiger’s beet tank, which holds about 25 tons. — Don Lilleboe ❖

Below: The Roggenbucks welcomed nearly 300 visitors to their farm in the fall of 2003 to witness the first U.S. beet field being harvested with a Ropa Tiger.

Photo: Debbie Roggenbuck

Write Field

Humility on the Golf Course

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Energy Beets Will a New Biofuels Sector Soon Spring Up Across North Dakota?

he only parts of North Dakota where you’ll find commercial sugarbeet fields are in the Red River Valley along the state’s eastern edge and in the Mon-Dak vicinity of northwestern North Dakota. The crop has never been grown commercially anywhere else in the Peace Garden State. But there’s a good chance it will be, one day soon. If and when that comes to pass, however, the “new” population of North Dakota sugarbeet growers will not be producing beets for sugar. Instead, they’ll be raising them for energy — specifically, for processing and use as biofuels. For the past three years, an entity called Green Vision Group (GVG) has been investigating and promoting the development of an energy beet industry in the Northern Plains. The endeavor has had two primary goals: (1) to help lower society’s carbon footprint, and (2) to simultaneously feed rural economic development in the region. Current principals in GVG are three North Dakotans with a long history of entrepreneurship and community development: Maynard Helgaas of West

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Monopill SE

Fargo, Lloyd Anderson of Fargo, and Rod Holth of Grand Forks. Helgaas, who owned a farm implement dealership in Jamestown for three decades, is GVG’s president. (The group’s website address is www.beetsallbiofuel.com.) The stakes are potentially very high. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, fuel produced from sugarbeets qualifies as an “advanced” biofuel — and EISA mandates the national production of 15 billion gallons of Maynard Helgaas advanced biofuels annually by 2022. Concurrently, the economic development impact in those areas where such biofuels end up being produced is obviously huge. Key to the GVG vision has been its partnership with North Dakota State University and with Muscatine, Iowabased Heartland Renewable Energy. To date, this partnership has produced a major economic feasibility study, conducted energy beet yield trials in sev-

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eral locations around North Dakota, and commercially tested a process (patented by Heartland) that uses a coproduct of energy beets (“stillage”) to provide up to 70% of a biofuel plant’s thermal needs. They’ve also initiated juice storage research at NDSU to enable year-round processing and plant utilization, and are currently working to attain EPA’s formal approval of the beet-origin ethanol as an “advanced” biofuel. While they don’t view energy beets as a competitor to ethanol made from corn, GVG does emphasize a primary advantage of fuel produced from this feedstock: “We can grow almost twice as much ethanol, per acre, as you can with corn,” says Helgaas. That obviously reduces the amount of land required to grow an equivalent amount of “energy fuel.” Another advantage of sugarbeets is that the processing regimen is simpler. With corn, Helgaas notes, the feedstock’s starches must first be broken down into sugars before ethanol can be produced. With sugarbeets, that step is unnecessary. So the bottom line is a reduced unit cost to convert the raw commodity into ethanol. Released in July 2010, the energy beet economic feasibility study was conducted by NDSU biofuel economist Cole Gustafson and his colleague, Thein Maung. Gustafson, who has worked closely with Green Vision Group for the past three years, says the analysis showed the estimated breakeven ethanol price for a 20-million-gallon-per-year (MGY) energy beet/ethanol plant to be $1.52 per gallon; for a 10-million-gallon plant, it was $1.71 per gallon. “At an ethanol price of $1.84 per gallon, and assuming other factors remain unchanged, the estimated net present value of the 20 MGY plant is $41.54 million,” the NDSU economists reported. Over the past year, of course, the energy cost picture has changed significantly. Market prices of feedstocks (sugarbeets and corn) are higher than they were when the report was being researched and written. So too is the cost of petroleum-based energy. But “the difference we’re interested in is the margin,” Gustafson points out. “And that remains about the same. I still see [beets as biofuel] as being a very profitable alternative. We should be able to compete quite well in the marketplace.” To qualify as an “advanced” biofuel, the product must produce at least 50% fewer emissions than petroleum.

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


hat major hurdles remain before North Dakota could have an operating beet-to-ethanol plant — and what timeline appears realistic, assuming those hurdles can be cleared? Phase I of the GVG plan, now complete, was comprised of the 2010 economic feasibility study, the testing of the Heartland-patented process to create thermal energy from waste material, and the initiation of energy beet yield trials. (See article on page 17.) All those components resulted in very encouraging findings. Phase II, now underway, will likely take one and a half to two years, according to Gustafson. Hopefully to be bolstered by a $1 million potential grant from the North Dakota Renewable Energy Council, its major components include: • Expanding the yield trials to additional locations this year to gain more agronomic data and to build crop insurance history so that when growers in a given area consider investing in beets-to-biofuel, they’ll have risk management tools available to them. • Looking at additional juice storage technology. Though the results of Phase I juice storage research were positive, “we want to take it a step further,” Gustafson says. “Our goal is to be able to process the beets in the fall, develop ‘thick juice’ and then store that through the winter months so our plants can operate year-round.” • Front-end processing technology. Whereas the traditional beet sugar industry slices beets entering the factory and then heats the resulting cossettes in a diffuser to extract the sucrose, the energy beet model takes a different approach. “We don’t need the degree of refinement (i.e., removal of impurities)

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Attaining EPA designation of sugarbeet-origin ethanol as an ‘advanced’ biofuel is key to the establishment of an energy beet industry. THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011

NDSU biofuel economist Cole Gustafson holds jars containing liquid ‘stillage’ (left), obtained from the bottom of the fermentation tank, and the dried powder (right) for burning in the beets-to-ethanol plant. that beet sugar factories do,” Gustafson explains. “So we’re looking at extrusion and grinding methods” as a way of separating the sugar from the pulp. • Pursuing EPA designation of sugarbeet-origin ethanol as an “advanced” biofuel. While there are no up-front guarantees, “we’re very confident” of attaining that status, Gustafson says. “That’s going to be a real key to our project,” he emphasizes. “That’s the driver in all this.” Phase III would be the actual construction of the first commercial beetto-ethanol plant in North Dakota. Maynard Helgaas expects it to be a 20MGY facility, given the positive economics compared to a smaller plant. He also expects it to be located next to an existing corn ethanol facility or electricity generating plant. “Co-locating reduces our investment significantly,” he points out. “We can use the same railroad tracks or spurs, we can buy their steam — and they can buy our waste product (stillage) and burn it with their coal.” If co-located with a corn ethanol plant, there also could be sharing opportunities with respect to distillation, marketing services and environmental permitting processes, Gustafson adds. Right now, $50 million — including $10 million in operating capital — is the ballpark number Green Vision Group projects will be needed to get a 20-MGY plant up and operating. Assuming that flagship plant gets off to a good start and the biofuels sector as a whole is healthy and growing, Helgaas envisions several similar facilities one day dotting the North Dakota land-

scape. “We’re looking at having plants where [the grower] won’t have to haul the beets over 10 miles,” he says. The idea is to have 30,000 acres of beets per year within that 20-mile-diameter circle to feed the plant. “To maintain reduced carbon emissions and qualify as an ‘advanced biofuel,’ we need to maintain production within that 10mile perimeter of the refinery,” Helgaas states. No energy beet production and processing operations are planned within the Red River Valley, GVG’s president adds, so as to not infringe upon the existing sugarbeet industry’s need for sufficient acreage, including any future expansion. GVG is also emphasizing the need for energy beet growers to follow four- to five-year crop rotations to reduce the risk of disease buildup. s positive as the research and development efforts have been to date, there’s still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the young energy beet sector. Cole Gustafson uses the word “mixed” when asked for adjectives to describe the economic and political climate for energy beet biofuels as of Summer 2011. “There’s a lot of momentum in the project, a lot of optimism on several fronts,” the NDSU economist affirms. “Last year’s yield trials were very positive, and they’re looking good again this year. The research we’ve done on economic feasibility, on juice storage and on the patented technology are all more positive than we’d expected. “On the other side, though, there’s the national recession and the difficulty of getting financing. All projects are facing that right now. “Another difficulty is the current national discussion about ethanol and tax credits. That has cast a cloud — even though we don’t include any of those kinds of subsidies in our financial analyses. We’re often ‘lumped’ into

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Photo: Don Lilleboe

(Corn produces 20% less.) Add to that the intent for energy beet plants to burn their own waste (the “stillage” produced during fermentation) for processing and heating, and that number could climb up toward 60%, Helgaas believes. Along with the stillage, other co-products will be a brewer’s yeast, pulp for livestock feed, and potash left over after the stillage is burned. The potash could be utilized as a fertilizer.


California Group Also Explores Beets as Biofuel other consultants also are involved with the project. The co-op applied for and received a $72,000 USDA value-added product grant for an initial feasibility study, which was completed in mid-2009. Then, in 2010, the Mendota group applied for and was awarded a $1.5 millong with North Dakota, energy beets also are receivlion competitive matching grant from the California Ening close attention in several other states — and esergy Commission to further examine the viability of pecially in the Central Valley of California. There, the processing sugarbeets, as well as farm waste products research and development catalyst has been Mendota (e.g., almond orchard prunings), for fuel and energy. Bioenergy LLC, a group comprised of former Spreckels The goal is to build a biorefinery that will utilize beSugar Company growers from Fresno County. Also worktween 840,000 to one million-plus tons of locally grown ing on the project are various university water/energy/ sugarbeets each year, along with another 80,000 tons of biomass specialists and several companies with experialmond prunings and other agricultural waste. From ence in biofuels engineering and development. those feedstocks, Mendota Bioenergy expects to produce The Mendota biorefinery effort got rolling in 2008 33.5 million gallons of advanced ethanol, 6.3 megawatts after Spreckels Sugar (owned by Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co-op) announced its beet factory there would of certified green electricity, 1.6 million/million cubic feet of renewable biomethane, and high-nutrient compost and be closed. Area growers initially looked into the possibilliquid fertilizer. The biorefinery also is expected to reity of buying the factory and continuing to grow and process beets for sugar, but decided that was not feasible. claim one million gallons of treated water per day, which in turn will be used for the facility’s operations. As an alternative, the newly formed Mendota Advanced “Work on the $1.5 million matching grant began [in] Bioenergy Beet Cooperative began investigating whether April 2011 and is scheduled to be completed in January energy beets could have a future in Fresno County. John 2013,” Tischer notes. This current phase includes explorDiener, a longtime sugarbeet grower from Five Points, ing the project’s technical feasibility, economic viability was the cooperative’s founding president. Jim Tischer of and environmental impacts. Specific areas of exploration the California Water Institute at Cal State-Fresno serves include the assessment of feedstock material properties, as project coordinator. Former Spreckels employees and development of integrated biomass processing and conBelow: Schematic of the proposed Mendota biorefinery process. version technologies, pilot-scale digester operations, and analyzing life-cycle environmental impacts and sustainability. Other work will focus on economic areas, such as a production sales and distribution plan, agreements for the use of the renewable energy, low-carbon and water-wise products, and the establishment of a Best Management Practices program framework for beet growers and others providing feedstocks to the biorefinery. If the project still appears feasible upon completion of the above work, full development, financing and construction on the $200 million Mendota biorefinery would then proceed. “If not, we’ll all go back to our ‘day jobs,’ ” Tischer says. “In an ‘ideal world,’ we would proceed with full development in 2013 and construction and startup in 2014. Construction is not, however, pre-ordained in today’s problematic project finance environment.” — Don Lilleboe ❖ 8

Mendota Bioenergy Leadership Group Includes Former Spreckels Sugar Growers

© 2010 / Mendota Advanced Bioenergy Beet Cooperative / Used By Permission

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it, though we’re a very different biofuel with a different market opportunity.” Today’s high prices for corn, soybeans, wheat and other ag commodities also factor into the equation. Gustafson says there are geographic pockets in North Dakota where farmer interest in energy beets is very high. “In fact, we had more requests from producers to have yield trials on their property this year than we can manage,” he notes. But current crop prices have muted the interest from other potential energy beet producers who don’t see the need to add another crop when the ones they’re already growing

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are so profitable — and familiar. Adequate grower participation is key not only from the feedstock production standpoint, but in the ownership arena as well. “We call ourselves ‘architects for rural development,’ ” Maynard Helgaas emphasizes. “We would like to see farmer ownership [of

Adequate grower participation is key not only from the feedstock production standpoint, but also in the ownership arena.

beets-to-biofuel] plants to some level — at least 40%.” So as always, “time will tell” when it comes to whether a commercial energy beet enterprise takes root in the Northern Plains and grows into a healthy, vibrant industry. There’s a lot going on, with many positive signs. There also are clouds of uncertainty, both economic and political. Green Vision Group and its partners continue to forge ahead, with the hope and the expectation that their efforts will pay off handsomely for both the region’s rural economy and the nation’s renewable energy needs. — Don Lilleboe ❖

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


Energy Beet Agronomics

Photo: Blaine Schatz

2010 N.D. Yield Trials Demonstrate Productivity; Seed Companies Lay Groundwork With Special Varieties

hen a commercial Above: A 2010 irrigated energy Group, North Dakota energy beet indus- beet plot at the North Dakota State University is now try does takes root and in its third year of yield State University Carrington grow in North Dakota, trials, testing under Research Extension Center. it will do so in areas both dryland and irrioutside the traditional gated conditions. Some beet belt. Beets for biofuel will be sugarbeet seed companies likewise are grown in locales where farmers have a heavily involved in testing their curlong history of wheat, barley and sunrent materials and breeding new variflower production, not sugarbeets. eties for the biofuel industry. That means there’ll be a learning The 2010 North Dakota yield trials curve. Although a lot of sugarbeet produced some impressive data. knowledge can be transferred from the Here’s a summary of the results, proRed River Valley or the Mon-Dak area vided by Blaine Schatz, director/agronof northwestern North Dakota/northomist at the NDSU Carrington eastern Montana, a grower in central Research Extension Center and coordiNorth Dakota needs some specialized nator of the trials. Syngenta/Hilleshog information geared to his environment was the seed company collaborator at — and he also needs specialized beet Carrington and Oakes, while Betaseed seed varieties that are designed for a was the collaborator at Williston, biofuel end use, not for the refined Dazey and Turtle Lake. sugar marketplace. • Carrington — Carrington is loRecognizing that, research is well cated in central North Dakota. Trials underway to develop varieties and at the NDSU center there were concompile agronomic data for the enviducted under both dryland and irrisioned energy beet production sector. gated conditions. Sixteen different In conjunction with the Green Vision varieties were tested in 2010. The

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THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011

mean root yield in the dryland plots was 25.2 tons per acre, with an average sugar content of 19.2%. Corresponding numbers in the irrigated plots were 37.8 tons and 18.5% sugar. • Oakes — Oakes is in Dickey County of southeastern North Dakota. The 16 varieties tested under irrigation in 2010 at the NDSU Oakes station averaged 37.4 tons per acre with a 17.8% sugar. • Williston — Located in northwestern North Dakota, NDSU’s Williston station tested five energy beet varieties under irrigation in 2010. The average yield was 29.7 tons per acre, with sugar content averaging 17.7%. • Dazey — Dazey is in east central North Dakota’s Barnes County. Both irrigated and dryland trials were conducted on the farm of cooperator Jim Broten. Dryland yields averaged 31.7 tons; irrigated, 35.5 tons per acre. Sugar content of the dryland energy beets averaged 16.8%; for the irrigated plots, 18.3%. • Turtle Lake — Turtle Lake is in central North Dakota, about 50 miles north of the state’s capital city, Bismarck. Five varieties were grown under irrigation on the farm of cooperator Steve Knorr. They averaged 25.9 tons and 18.0% sugar. In terms of sugar per acre, the top variety across all trial sites produced 16,044 pounds in an irrigated plot at Carrington. That plot yielded 43.1 tons per acre with an 18.6% sugar content. Yield trials have again been established in 2011 at the above locations, along with two more: a dryland trial at Langdon in Cavalier County (northeastern North Dakota) and another dryland trial at Minot (Ward County, in the north central part of the state). he bottom line with the yield trials to date is that very respectable yields and sugar contents can be achieved throughout North Dakota. “It should be noted that the performance of the energy beets at both the Turtle Lake and Williston locations [was] somewhat compromised by lessthan-optimum planting date or harvest date,” Schatz reports. “Optimum dates would have likely resulted in an additional three to six tons per acre at both these locations.” The 2010 yield trials also underscored that, just like “regular” sugarbeets, energy beet varieties respond differently from location to location. Syngenta and Betaseed have been breeding for the energy beet market

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‘We understand that energy beets will require different growing and quality characteristics than a conventional sugarbeet. We are breeding for those traits.’ for quite some time. Both have European parent organizations, and Europe has a longer history in this arena than does the United States. “KWS (Betaseed’s parent) has been breeding for energy crops and energy beets for over 10 years,” says Steve Libsack, director of business development and strategic accounts for Betaseed. “We understand that energy beets will require different growing and quality characteristics than a conventional sugarbeet. We are breeding for those traits, as well as breeding varieties that can be grown in many more climates around the world — everything from drought regions to tropical regions.” Trent Wimmer, business development manager for Syngenta/Hilleshog, explains that impurity levels are a key difference between beets bred for energy use versus beets bred to produce

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sugar for human consumption. “Today, most sugar processors have impurity standards in place and demand highquality varieties with low impurity levels,” he observes. “These impurities don’t allow the sucrose to crystallize, and the sugar is lost to molasses.” That then equates to lost revenue for the processor. “For energy production, these same impurities don’t hinder fermentation or digestion,” Wimmer continues, “so it really opens up the possibilities for variety selection. It allows us to bring in performance and yield options. “At the end of the day, though, we still need the sugar. So sugar per acre is a key driver.” “Biotech seed has allowed us to decrease the learning curve for a new grower,” Wimmer points out. “Flexibility with weed control allows us to focus on other important agronomics, such as soil preparation, plantability and disease control. We spend a good portion of time on seed-to-soil contact and seed depth and spacing, with the goal of establishing a good stand.” Growers in “new” beet areas will certainly be faced with some challenges. There would be the investment in a sugarbeet harvester,

Energy beet processing doesn’t require the low impurity levels needed by regular beet sugar processors. But at the end of the day, ‘we still need the sugar.’ individually or in a group; altered crop rotations, requiring special attention to herbicide carryover and insecticide usage; fertilization; and, in general, the risks involved in growing an unfamiliar crop. “It certainly won’t fit into every grower’s operation in ‘nontraditional’ beet growing regions,” says Betaseed’s Libsack. “But there will be fantastic opportunity for many.” That said, no one disputes the uncertainty that exists as of 2011. “We’re still in the ‘fact finding’ stage,” Libsack affirms. “But once we’ve proven that beets can be economically and feasibly grown for [ethanol] production — and at a lower cost than corn — I can see the industry moving ahead very quickly. I firmly believe that whoever builds the first plant utilizing beets will be breaking ground for a quick-todevelop industry.” — Don Lilleboe ❖

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011


Around The Industry John Richmond Honored As ‘Sugar Man of the Year 2010’

RRV Sugarbeet Museum Hosting 7th Harvest Festival on Sept. 11

John Richmond, former president and CEO of Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, was honored as “Sugar Man of the Year 2010” during a May luncheon of the Sugar Club in New York City. Richmond is the 53rd recipient of the prestigious Dyer Memorial Award, named after the founder of B.W. Dyer & Company, a 108-year-old brokerage company for sweeteners and other foods. Richmond’s nearly four-decade career in the sugar John Richmond industry began as a management trainee with Holly Sugar Corporation in 1973. He held several positions with Holly (later Imperial Holly), including vice president of operations and later managing director of Imperial Holly, in which post he was in charge of 11 beet sugar factories and cane sugar refining operations. The Kearney, Neb., native became president/CEO of Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in 2001, guiding the company until his retirement in 2008. That tenure included Southern Minn’s purchase of Holly, thereby providing the Minnesota co-op with additional marketing allocations. Richmond thus also became president/CEO of Holly, which was renamed Spreckels Sugar. Richmond, who graduated with a degree in chemistry from Kearney State College, served as president of the American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists, the Sugar Processing Research Institute and the United States National Committee on Sugar Analysis. He also was an instructor at the McGinnis Institute of Beet Sugar Technology. “Although you retired in 2008 and reside in Colorado Springs with your wife, Sharon, you remain active in the sugar industry as an advisor to the cooperative,” read Richmond’s Sugar Club citation. “Your reputation as a sound thinker is widely respected, and your good humor is legendary.”

The Red River Valley Sugarbeet Museum celebrates its 7th annual Harvest Festival on Sunday, September 11. The museum is located on the southeast side of Crookston, Minn., at the former Crookston Implement site. The festival begins at 11:00 a.m., with a roast pork dinner starting at 11:30. Sugarbeets will be harvested with vintage equipment, with wagons provided so the public can ride alongside the old-time harvesters and view the operation. New this year will be a restored “Harvall” beet harvester, built at the American Crystal factory in East Grand Forks, Minn. The 2011 Harvest Festival also will honor Al Bloomquist, well known to everyone in the Upper Midwest sugarbeet industry. Bloomquist was instrumental in Red River Valley growers’ purchase of American Crystal Sugar Company in the early 1970s, later serving as vice president and president of the cooperative prior to his retirement. For more information on the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Museum and this year’s Harvest Festival, visit www.sugarbeetmuseum.com.

THE SUGARBEET GROWER July/August 2011

and harvesting systems for sugarbeets and dry edible beans, two of western Nebraska’s major irrigated crops. Smith became involved in testing sugarbeet planters for growers, prior to the planting season, during the mid1990s when he and a colleague developed an electronic planter test stand. “That gave us the ability to measure planter performance with numbers as opposed to a visual subjective view of the planter,” he noted. Smith also worked on transplanting of sugarbeets and helped develop planter improvements for their use with this crop. In recent John Smith years, he also conducted research on zone (strip) till production of row crops, which has expanded considerably in the region. Among his many outreach activities have been Smith’s valuable contributions to The Sugarbeet Grower — both as an author of research results and as a resource person for other articles. After growing up on a farm in Ohio, Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tri State College in Angola, Ind. He worked for six years as a design engineer before returning to school, receiving a master’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Wyoming. After two years with Parma Company, he joined the UN Panhandle station in 1981.

50th International Sugarbeet Institute Set for March 14 & 15 John Smith Retires After 30-Year Career at UN Panhandle Center John Smith, well-known machinery systems engineer at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center, retired at the end of June after a 30-year career with the university. During his three-decade tenure in the Panhandle, he worked extensively with machinery manufacturers, farmers, commodity groups and his university peers to improve farm machinery systems for field production of crops — particularly tillage, planting

The 2012 International Sugarbeet Institute is scheduled for March 14 and 15 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. Next year’s event marks the 50th anniversary of ISBI — the largest sugarbeet industry trade show in North America. Companies desiring preliminary exhibiting information for the 2012 International Sugarbeet Institute can contact exhibits coordinator Bob Cournia at (218) 281-4681. Other ISBI-related inquiries should be directed to Dr. Mohamed Khan, organizing committee chairman, at (701) 231-8596. ❖

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The Sugarbeet Grower Magazine July/August 2011  

Company ag officials discuss prepile field selection. Believers in Strip Till - The Breidenbachs of Colorado. Roggenbucks use German-made Su...

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