<![CDATA[The Sugarbeet Grower Magazine - Features]]>Fri, 12 Feb 2016 15:12:23 -0800EditMySite<![CDATA[ ‘A Great Asset’ for Michigan Growers]]>Fri, 12 Feb 2016 18:17:01 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-a-great-asset-for-michigan-growersMSU Sugarbeet Educator & Sugarbeet Advancement Coordinator Steve Poindexter Has Been a Key Player in Michigan’s Production Progress in Past Two Decades Steve PoindexterPhoto: Don Lilleboe
As the tonnage graph on page 6 clearly shows, the years since 1997- 98 have brought a dramatic upward trend in Michigan sugarbeet yields. In 1995 the state’s beet crop averaged just 15.5 tons per acre; by the mid-2000s, it was in the 22- to 24-ton range. In 2014 Michigan’s sugarbeet growers set a record at 29.63 tons — and this past harvest, they raced right past that mark with an average yield of 31.6 tons per acre and 17.9% sugar.

Life is often about timing — and Steve Poindexter jokingly point outs that his arrival on the beet scene “just happened” to coincide with the beginning of this turnaround in Michigan sugarbeet productivity. Still, despite the tongue-in-cheek nature of that quip, there’s no doubt Poindexter has played an important role in the big strides made by the Michigan sugarbeet sector over the past two decades. In his position as senior extension educator for Michigan State University and coordinator of the Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement initiative, he has been intimately involved in the research and extension efforts that have constituted an integral part of the recent decades’ success story for the state’s sugarbeet industry.

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Rick Gerstenberger readily affirms that statement. Gerstenberger, who farms near Snover, is chairman of the Michigan Sugar Company Board of Directors. Referring to the sagging-yield era of the early and mid-1990s, he points out that “grower interest was fading, and growers and the company wanted to solve the yield issue.” That led to discussions about Michigan State University becoming more involved in beet research and extension — which, in turn, ultimately led to Poindexter’s assignment as extension sugarbeet specialist. “Michigan Sugar Company was already doing variety screening for characteristics like sugar and disease traits in small replicated plots,” Gerstenberger notes. “But the company was not doing testing on larger-plot field simulation-type trials.”

Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement (SBA), a multi-entity research/education initiative, was formed in the winter of 1996/97 to address the matter. Its work since then has paid big dividends. “Sugarbeet Advancement’s on farm replicated strip trials have really helped sort the varieties and allowed the best varieties in actual field conditions to ‘rise to the top,’ ” Gerstenberger states. “SBA has tested many things over the years — one of the first being primed seed. Steve’s work helped show growers what an advantage it would have for their operations.”

More recently, the Michigan beet sector also established REACh -- which stands for Research & Education Advisory Council. “The biggest issue for us was coordination of all the sources of information available to growers,” Gerstenberger recalls in explaining the purpose for REACh. Discussions with Poindexter and others led to the formation of REACh, which now serves as the primary research reporting arm in Michigan for sugarbeets. “This model has been reviewed and looked at for other commodities at the university level and has been very successful,” Gerstenberger notes.

“Steve is a dedicated team player, working closely with MSC research staff, looking for answers to growers’ issues,” MSC’s board chairman continues. “He has been a leader and well-respected communicator in the industry for almost 20 years. His attention to detail and concern for the industry makes him a great asset for growers in Michigan.”

While he appreciates such kudos, Poindexter knows full well that the progress made by the Michigan sugarbeet industry over the past two decades is due to the efforts of many individuals representing several entities: sugar company researchers and agriculturists, university and USDA researchers and educators, seed companies and other agribusinesses — and, of course, growers.
Tom Wenzel and Steve PoindexterTom Wenzel (left) joined Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement in 2007 as research technician. His engineering background has proven invaluable as he coordinates much of SBA’s field trial logistics in conjunction with Steve Poindexter (right).
Poindexter has been employed by the Michigan State University Extension Service his entire career. While still an MSU student, he already knew Extension was the route he wanted to travel — and he has been with the Saginaw County office of MSU Extension since graduating from the university. “From 1980 to 1997, I was a general extension agent for all crops,” he recalls. “At one time I was kind of the ‘soybean expert’ in the area; then worked trying to revitalize the wheat industry.”

That changed in 1997. As reported in the February 1998 issue of The Sugarbeet Grower, “The seeds of what would become the Sugarbeet Advancement Initiative were sown shortly after the ’96 harvest, when a few growers and company ag men sat down to evaluate the situation and what might be done about it. The first in a series of larger meetings involving growers, sugar company leaders, Michigan State University representatives and agribusiness personnel was held in early winter.”

There were two sugar processors, both stock companies, in the state at that time: Michigan Sugar Company and Monitor Sugar Company. And there were two grower groups: the Great Lakes Sugar Beet Growers Association (producing for Michigan Sugar) and the Monitor Sugarbeet Growers. “We knew the sugar companies . . . had a breakeven point on tonnage or acreage; and if we dropped below that, they would shut down,” noted John Spero, a Saginaw area grower and first chairman of Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement in that 1998 article. “And if they shut down, they probably would never open again.”

Sugarbeet Advancement became the first ever industry-wide coordinated initiative for the Michigan beet sector and conducted its first field-scale trials in 1997. Poindexter joined SBA that summer, with his position jointly funded by MSU and SBA. “I’m a district sugarbeet extension agent; but I’m working with and for the efforts of the Sugarbeet Advancement Initiative,” he explained at the time.

Looking back nearly 20 years later, Poindexter recalls that the SBA committee, at its onset, came up with about two dozen “issues” that were impacting Michigan’s beet yields, issues that needed to be addressed. “The number one thing was: growers could not get consistent emergence,” he says. “And if you start out with just half a stand, you’ve already limited your yield prospects.” Diseases (especially Rhizoctonia) were another primary problem, as was sugarbeet cyst nematode. Soil-related concerns, like compaction and drainage, also made the list.

Today, of course, there is just one sugar processor in Michigan — and the company is owned by the growers. The atmosphere was quite different in the mid-1990s, and Poindexter has memories of sometimes feeling like a referee. “The companies would say, ‘You need to tell the growers to do that,’ and the growers would say, ‘You need to tell the companies that they are focused on their own best interest, not ours.’ Trying to work in the middle of that was really a struggle at times,” he recalls, “and probably was one reason why [SBA] was successful — because I wasn’t nuzzled up to the company, I wasn’t nuzzled up with the growers. I was just trying to do what was right and make things work.

“That’s where the university comes in: being the ‘in between.’”

The 23-member Sugarbeet Advancement governing committee is comprised of growers, Michigan Sugar Company agronomy employees, USDA and university researchers, and industry representatives. The committee can, with Michigan Sugar board approval, assess growers up to five cents a ton to fund SBA research. (Assessment dollars also fund part of SBA staff salaries, operations and equipment purchases or leases.) Each year, SBA conducts about 25 field trials through harvest. “I estimate since we have started the program in 1997, we’ve been in more than 300 fields, planting and harvesting with growers,” Poindexter says.

While he’s obviously involved in research, Poindexter views himself as primarily an educator. “You can have the best dang research there is; but if you can’t transform that to the growers and get them to accept it, it doesn’t make a difference,” he says. “I think that’s one of the strong points we’ve been able to accomplish. Whether it’s Michigan Sugar’s research, our own research or whomever, we have a good educational component now — and growers believe us, for the most part.

“No grower is going to do everything [we suggest]; it’s a management decision on their part. But what’s surprising to me is how quickly growers have taken some of what we’ve done and implemented it on their farms.” 

Poindexter ticks off several examples of how things have changed — for the better — since the mid-1990s:

• “Progress in stand establishment has been huge. Priming was a godsend to getting emergence, because in Michigan it could take up to three weeks to get beets out of the ground (due to slow-warming soils). During that time, you’re going to get a pounding rain, you’re going to have crusting, and you’re not going to achieve a very good stand. I remember when priming first came on board. We were doing some trials with it and were finding emergence seven days faster. It was amazing.”

• “The second thing that happened was growers changed the way they tilled their soil. Many times, they were working the field twice, and then planting. Well, when you’re planting only an inch deep, it dries out. Now they’re working it very shallow — or, in many cases, working it only in the fall and not in the spring, and then planting into a stale seedbed.”

• A generation ago, “there were some growers who wouldn’t plant a sugarbeet until April 15. I don’t care if the ground was ready three weeks ahead of that date, they weren’t going to plant. But rarely do we get beets that freeze off in Michigan. It does happen occasionally, but growers have figured out that if it’s April and the ground is ready, you go. You don’t wait two weeks. That was a major change.”

• “When I first started, the agronomist at the sugar company was saying ‘a 100% stand is 100 beets per 100 feet of row.’ OK, but what if you have emergence problems — which we did — or early season disease problems, and end up with only 50 beets per 100 feet? Right now, our average stands are 200 beets per 100 feet of row.” Simply increasing the recommended planting rate was the first step — with the availability of pelleted seed being critical to accurate seed placement.

• “Rhizoctonia was by far the biggest disease problem we had. When the sugar companies were separate from the growers, they were approving very high sugar varieties, but often with poor disease tolerance — particularly to Rhizoc.” Today, along with having improved varieties, Sugarbeet Advancement’s trials with fungicide treatments (Quadris in-furrow followed by foliar applications) have made a huge difference. “We have darned near 100% of our growers doing something on Rhizoctonia control that they never did before. Some of it is a ‘pain in the butt;’ but they know it’s going to make them money, so they do it.”

While the testing parameters can be more tightly controlled in smallscale research plots, Poindexter strongly believes in the value of the field-scale trials that Sugarbeet Advancement has conducted since its inception. “Michigan Sugar Company has a very aggressive research program,” he says. “But there are some major differences (from SBA trials). “Number one, they have to approve the varieties through their standards, in their small trials. We complement that, since a lot of growers also want to see those varieties in large trials, under grower management conditions. Occasionally we’ve had certain varieties that didn’t do so well ‘out in the real world.’ Though genetically they’ve had the potential, they’re a ‘race horse.’ And sometimes ‘the track is muddy.’ ”

Sugarbeet Advancement conducts what Poindexter refers to as “secondtier” testing. “For example, we can’t work on chemicals that are unapproved because we can’t spray 40 acres and then destroy those beets — whereas they (Michigan Sugar researchers) can in their small plots. But once Michigan Sugar says, ‘This is working in small trials,’ we can put [the product] in big strip trials, with the growers doing it themselves. So again, it’s complementary to what the sugar company researchers are doing.”

As to key challenges in the coming years, Poindexter says that like other sugarbeet regions, the Michigan sector must address herbicide resistance management. But at least equally as pressing for his state is fungicide resistance. “Strobilurins are the main issue right now,” he says, “but we’re also hugely concerned with the triazoles.” Best management practices will be vital, he stresses — especially since no new fungicides are poised to come into the beet market in the near future.

Whatever the current challenges or new ones that may arise for Michigan’s sugarbeet community, Poindexter believes the unified approach that exists today will be critical to their successful management. “The Michigan sugar group is an excellent partnership between the university, industry and growers,” he affirms, “and combining our strengths has, I think, worked out very well. We’re all pulling in the same direction, so there’s little confusion as to what we’re telling growers, as to the direction we’re heading.”

And there’s no doubt that Steve Poindexter treasures those grower relationships on a personal level as well. “I don’t think there’s a nicer group of people than growers — especially sugarbeet growers,” he states. “This is a unique crop — particularly with the coop aspect. They have ‘skin in the game.’

“I’ve found over the years if you can do something to help their family, like 4-H, they really like that. And if you can help them with their business, they’re really appreciative. That’s probably the biggest satisfaction in my work. I don’t know of any growers who I don’t like!” — Don Lilleboe

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<![CDATA[ 2015 Minn.-N.D. Grower Practices Survey Recap]]>Fri, 12 Feb 2016 17:36:30 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-2015-minn-nd-grower-practices-survey-recapPicture
The 47th annual survey of weed control and production practices among sugarbeet growers in Minnesota and eastern North Dakota received electronically submitted responses from 90 growers — down substantially from the 188 who responded to the prior year’s survey questionnaire. Growers in the region planted just under 639,000 acres of beets in 2015, with the respondents representing 58,776 acres, or 9% of the total acres (compared to 16% for the 2014 survey).

Of the acres reported upon, 100% were planted to Roundup Ready® sugarbeet varieties (compared to 99% the previous year). Total beet acreage treated with herbicides (taking into account multiple applications) was 260% — compared to 2014’s 236%. (By comparison, the corresponding numbers for 2006 and 2007 — the two years just prior to the introduction of Roundup Ready (RR) beets — were 386% and 383%, respectively.)

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Nortron, Dual Magnum and tank mixes of Nortron + Dual were the soil applied herbicides used by respondents in 2015. Soil-applied herbicide use for all reported acreage was at 18% last year. That compares with 4% in 2014, 3% in 2013 and 2% in 2012.

​Lay-by herbicides Outlook, Warrant and Dual Magnum were applied to 42% of reported acres in 2015, compared to 15% the previous year. “The increase in lay-by applications from 2014 to 2015 is likely due to the increasing presence of glyphosate-resistant waterhemp,” state the survey report authors*. “All lay-by applications were made as tank mixes with glyphosate and/or other herbicides.” Outlook was the most commonly used lay-by product.

The most common herbicide treatment reported by all survey respondents since 2009 has been glyphosate applied post emergence. Alone and when combined across all tank-mix combinations, the glyphosate post treatment was applied to 242% of all 2014 acreage reported upon. That number in 2014 was 227%; in 2013 it was 215%; in 2012, 192%. Glyphosate + Stinger (37% of acres treated) and glyphosate + Outlook (16%) were the most frequently reported herbicide combinations by respondents planting beets in 2015. Stinger helps control weeds like common ragweed or volunteer RR soybeans, whereas Outlook can be added as a lay-by to control small seeded broadleaves like waterhemp.

“The Roundup Ready sugarbeet system continues to provide the most effective post weed control reported by growers in the history of this survey,” the authors state. Of the respondents to the 2015 survey, 41% reported excellent post weed control. “Of those growers who reported weed control from glyphosate applied alone (excludes those who did not respond), 60% reported excellent weed control in 2015, compared to 63% in 2014, 75% in 2013, 77% in 2012, 80% in 2011, 81% in 2010, 87% in 2009 and 92% in 2008,” they continue, adding that the declining trend “of excellent weed control by respondents with RR sugarbeet should be noted as it is likely an indicator of increasing levels of glyphosate-resistant weeds.”

* Report authors were Andrew Lueck, sugarbeet research specialist, North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota; Tom Peters, extension sugarbeet specialist, NDSU/UM; Mohamed Khan, extension sugarbeet specialist, NDSU/UM; and Mark Boetel, professor of entomology, NDSU.

Waterhemp was reported most frequently as the “worst weed” problem by 46% of respondents planting RR beets in 2015. Each year from 2008 to 2013, “none” was chosen most often for the “worst weed” designation. The takeaway message, the survey coordinators state, is that “growers should closely monitor their farms for waterhemp escapes and create management strategies that do not rely upon glyphosate alone.” Ragweed (14%), “None” (10%) and common lambsquarters (10%) were the next most reported “worst weed” problems by 2015 survey respondents. Nearly one-fourth — 22% — of survey respondents indicated they plan to use a soil-applied (PPI or PRE) herbicide in the spring of 2016. Another 41% said they do not plan to do so, while 37% were still undecided as of the time they filled out the survey. When asked if they planned to use a lay-by herbicide this coming season, 36% said yes, 34% said no, and 30% said “maybe.”

Here are a few more highlights from the 2015 survey report:

• Averaged across all counties, hand weeding was reported on 13% of beet acres last year. Renville, Chippewa and Norman counties in Minnesota and Richland and Cass counties in North Dakota each reported more than 10% hand-weeded acreage. A substantial percentage of reporting growers in four of these counties (Renville, Chippewa, Richland and Cass) gave high “worst weed” ratings to waterhemp, which likely is related to their higher use of hand weeding.

• Once again, Rhizoctonia/Aphanomyces was selected most often — 45% — by survey respondents as the “most serious production problem.” From 1999 through 2008, weeds were deemed the primary problem; but only 14% of respondents indicated so in 2015 (up from 7% in 2014). “Emergence/ stand”-related issues were indicated as the worst production problem in 2015 by 18% of respondents. Last spring was very dry in much of the region, allowing for early planting.

• Cover crops were seeded on 49% of respondents’ beet acreage in 2015.  Barley (25%) was the most commonly reported cover crop. Respondents from Chippewa County, Minn., and Richland County, N.D., reported the highest rate of cover crop seeding at 80% and 84%, respectively, of beet acres.

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<![CDATA[Calling It a Career]]>Tue, 01 Dec 2015 18:18:02 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/calling-it-a-career​Michigan Sugar Ag Vice President Paul Pfenninger Reflects Upon 38 Years in the Beet Industry Paul Pfenninger, Sugarbeet Grower MagazinePaul Pfenninger. Photo by Don Lilleboe
Come January 1, the retirement bell rings for one of the most well known individuals in the Michigan sugarbeet industry. Paul Pfenninger, vice president of agriculture for Michigan Sugar Company, is stepping aside after a 38-year immersion in the world of sugarbeets.
“Paul has played a large part in the success of Michigan Sugar Company, and he will be missed,” affirms Rick Gerstenberger, chairman of the cooperative’s board of directors. “His dedication and hard work have helped us set several production records throughout his career. Paul faced a lot of challenges during his tenure as our ag VP, including Roundup Ready® seed genetics approval and compliance, changing seed variety standards, adapting to self-propelled harvesting and many other new technologies. Pile storage management may have been his biggest challenge, and he did an excellent job.”

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Steve Poindexter, senior extension sugarbeet educator for Michigan State University and coordinator of the Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement research initiative, has worked with Pfenninger for many years in their respective capacities. “As vice president of agriculture, Paul has always understood the long-term importance of adequately funding research and education,” Poindexter observes. “This commitment has steadily improved yield and quality, making Michigan Sugar growers some of the most profitable in the nation.”

In announcing Pfenninger’s retirement to MSC shareholders in September, Michigan Sugar President and CEO Mark Flegenheimer stated, “Paul’s years of experience and knowledge of the ‘beet business’ has helped successfully guide our cooperative through the harvest and storage of numerous record-setting crops. Paul’s passion for this industry — and compassion for his fellow employees — will be missed.” Jim Ruhlman, a 30-year employee of Michigan Sugar Company, has been named executive vice president with responsibility for overseeing the agriculture, information technology and packaging/warehouse operations areas. Ruhlman previously served as MSC’s vice president of administration.
Paul Pfenninger grew up on a small farm about 20 miles northwest of Bay City. The state contained two sugarbeet processors at that time — both privately held stock companies: Monitor Sugar Company (headquartered at Bay City) and Michigan Sugar Company (headquartered in Saginaw). Following his graduation from Central Michigan University in 1977 with a biology major and chemistry minor, Pfenninger began his sugarbeet career upon being hired as Michigan Sugar’s agricultural laboratory director. “I ran all the sugars, impurities and aminos — and actually made grower payments my first year there off an old programmable calculator,” he recalls.

In 1981 Pfenninger moved up the road to Monitor Sugar as an agronomist. He was promoted to general ag manager six years later and then, in 1993, became Monitor’s vice president of agriculture. Monitor and Michigan Sugar were competitors in the marketplace at that time — and would remain so until 2004, when the two companies became one: the Michigan Sugar Company grower-owned cooperative.

“We competed for the same growers, for the same shelf market,” Pfenninger says of that pre-cooperative era. Ag research initiatives, though, were a combined affair. Monitor, Michigan Sugar and the state’s sugarbeet growers jointly funded and directed production research under the umbrella of the Farmers and Manufacturers Beet Sugar Association.
He’s still just in his early 60s, but Pfenninger can deliver an intriguing history lesson when talking about the “then and now” of sugarbeet production in Michigan. Some examples:

Beet Seed Cost & Technology — “When I started with Monitor, I used to issue all the seed to every grower. There were three choices: Size 2 of US H20, Size 3 of US H20 or Size 4 of US H20. That was it. Each size had a color, so if you didn’t remember the size number, it was red, green or blue. The seed cost $5.00 a pound, and you bought it in 25-pound bags. We’d even split bags if you only wanted a partial one.

“Seed technology has evolved tremendously, of course — and it continues to change every day, for the better. We have coatings, seed treatments and much improved disease resistance. And then there’s Roundup Ready, which revolutionized the system: how we do weed control, how we can do wind control since we plant in more trash compared to the ‘old days.’ ”

Row Spacing --“Everybody here used to plant in 28- or 30-inch rows; we didn’t know what narrow rows were. Now we’re close to 50% narrow rows — 20s or 22s, though some of our growers still use the wider spacings.”

Tillage & Planting --“In the ‘old days,’ you plowed. You didn’t want to see a single corn stalk still standing. Today, that would be a disaster. One year we had 25% replants because of wind. You just don’t see that anymore. Stale seedbeds (no preplant tillage) are a big part of it. And we get out there earlier. We used to say it took 10 days to two weeks to get everything planted. Now, if the weather is favorable, five days and it’s all in.”

Harvesting --“Oh my God, can they harvest beets! And the trucks our growers are using now! Back in the early ’80s, up in places like Au Gres (Arenac County), 14 tons was the average load. Now the average is over 30. And then there are the self-propelled harvesters — we probably had 55-60 operating in Michigan and Ontario in 2015. Plus a lot of carts and over a dozen Maus operations — all of it helping us clean beets better.”

Productivity & Storage — “When I started with Monitor in 1981, we had an 18-ton and 18% sugar crop. Our CEO, who was retiring at the time, said, ‘You’ll never see that again.’ Now, if we had an 18-ton average, it would be a disaster. This year we came in at 31.7 tons per acre, company wide.

“When we were at 18 tons, if we sliced beets until the middle of January, that was a long campaign. Then it stretched to early February, mid-February and the first of March. Now, with the yields we’ve been getting, we’re pushing out to the end of March. That has pushed us toward more ventilated piles. We started out with 10,000 tons over vents; now it’s at 770,000 tons. We initially wanted a 14-day supply (of ventilated beets); then a 20-day supply — and now it’s a 35-day supply because the season is going longer all the time.”

Communication Technology — “I remember when the first fax came in. We (Monitor) were owned by the South Africans (Illovo) at the time. It was on a piece of paper that stretched across the office.

“Now we’re wired 24/7, for good or bad. And our ability to communicate with growers is phenomenal. How did we do it during harvest in the past — snail mails, radio? Today, with cell phones and auto steer, they’ll talk your ear off until they get to the end of the row.”• Transitioning From Two Competitive Stock Companies to One Co-op — “I’ll speak for the ag staff and growers: you’re apprehensive. Here we are, competitors. Then the next day we’re ‘best of buddies.’ But speaking from the ag staff and research side of it, the transition has worked very well. We merged, and everyone picked up and made it successful.

“At the end of the day, it (the merger and co-op formation) was the only way to go. It was how the industry here survived and moved ahead.”

‘It’s been a good career. And I’ve met a lot of wonderful
people. The sugarbeet industry has treated me well.’

Asked about key production challenges facing Michigan Sugar Company and its growers as the calendar flips into 2016, Pfenninger immediately responds with “resistance management.” That includes weeds resistant to glyphosate and diseases tolerant/resistant to certain fungicides.

“Fortunately, we are very diverse in Michigan” when it comes to cropping options, he says. “We have a lot of edible beans in rotations, we have wheat, we have pickles — all crops that force us to use systems other than Roundup Ready. But there also are those rotations with Roundup Ready beets, Roundup Ready soybeans and maybe Roundup Ready corn. That’s not a good stewardship recipe, and we know at some point we’ll have resistant weed pressure. We’ve been trying to educate the growers, and they’re listening. But it’s a process.” Among the more threatening weed species right now in terms of resistance, he adds, are Palmer amaranth and waterhemp.

In terms of fungicide resistance, “we know there’s some resistance building to the strobilurins, and that’s a real concern,” Pfenninger remarks. “Again, we’ve been trying to educate: don’t always use the same class of fungicides. Rotate.”
Managing the quality of beets in storage will continue to be a yearly challenge, Pfenninger says. The new hoop building at Sebewaing (see page 8) is helping address it, as is increased pile ventilation capacity. A new tare policy being introduced by Michigan Sugar also should assist by introducing less dirt into the piles and thus helping reduce root degradation.

Related to storage is a long-held wish of Pfenninger’s — one that has not yet come to fruition: smooth-root beet varieties. USDA breeders have worked on smooth root development for decades, but as yet have not achieved high enough sugar content to make them commercially feasible. “A smooth root, without the sutures and thus carrying a lot less soil, would allow us to get rid of grab rolls, get rid of the damaging equipment we use to get the dirt off — and allow us to store beets longer,” he states. “When you think about the industry as a whole — the amount of dirt we haul across the countryside with those harvested roots, and the settling ponds we have to dredge — smooth roots’ impact could be huge.”

Like many sugar industry leaders who have retired, Paul Pfenninger places personal relationships at the top when it comes to what he has enjoyed — and will miss — the most. Growers, both prior to and since the formation of the co-op, hold a special spot, as do the many sugar company co-workers he’s come to know through the years. Then there are fellow “aggies” throughout the rest of the beet industry, past and present — “a lot of neat people.”

Leadership roles within the sugarbeet industry have added to Pfenninger’s relationship and travel memory profiles as well. He has served as president and longtime board member of both the American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists and the Beet Sugar Development Foundation, as well as a president of Oregon-based West Coast Beet Seed Company, which produces hybrid seed for several companies. Travels to Mauritius and Swaziland while with Monitor Sugar (then owned by South Africa-based Illovo Sugar), as well as several trips to Europe, are prized experiences.

During 2016, however, Pfenninger looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren, gardening and sitting in a deer blind with his brothers, come November, for more than just a single day.

“It’s been a good career,” Paul Pfenninger affirms. “Very diverse. And, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. The sugarbeet industry has treated me well.” — Don Lilleboe
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<![CDATA[ Keeping the Elements at Bay]]>Tue, 01 Dec 2015 17:56:41 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-keeping-the-elements-at-bayMichigan Sugar’s Sebewaing Hoop Building
Sebewaing Hoop Building, Sugarbeet Grower Magazine
Constructed prior to the 2015 harvest, this open-ended hoop building on Michigan Sugar Company’s Sebewaing factory piling grounds is helping to protect 45,000 tons of beets. It’s shown here during the piling phase. Photo: Michigan Sugar Company / Rick List
Unlike the huge sugarbeet storage sheds dotting the Red River Valley, it’s not designed to hold frozen beets into spring, thereby extending the processing campaign. And unlike the ones at Amalgamated Sugar Company’s Paul, Idaho, location, it’s not even meant to cool and hold them down below ambient temperatures. But the new hoop building constructed this fall at Michigan Sugar Company’s Sebewaing factory location does have a very important mission: to reduce root deterioration and help provide good-quality beets for the factory right up to the end of the slicing campaign.
The Sebewaing hoop building, 190 feet wide and just under 600 feet in length, was filled this fall with about 45,000 tons of beets. It is an open-ended facility, with a roof apex some 80 feet above ground level. Ventilation fans outside its 10-foot-high concrete side walls pump air into the 24-foot-high beet pile.
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PictureRick List
The whole idea behind the hoop building is to cut down on quality deterioration of rim beets stemming from Michigan’s alternating patterns of rain, sun and snow during the winter months. “Unlike the Red River Valley, we can’t freeze beets solid,” explains Rick List, ag operations manager for Michigan Sugar Company. “We try to keep them at about 34-36 degrees in the piles with our ventilation. But we still have trouble with rim beets [on uncovered piles] due to the freezing-thawing cycles and the sun shining on them, along with snow. And we sometimes get rains in December-January that can be quite devastating.”
Michigan beet piles can and do partially freeze in midwinter — which causes added problems. “When we get strong, cold winds, the outside of the pile freezes solid — sometimes as much as 10 to 15 feet deep into the pile. That becomes a big block of ice and is very difficult for our loaders to break up,” List points out. “Then, if we haven’t removed those beets beforehand, it creates all sorts of issues when it thaws in the spring.
“Hopefully this building will keep some of the freezing from penetrating into the pile” by blocking the driving wind. The hoop building sits pretty much at a north-south angle, with the area’s prevailing winds coming in from the northwest.
The goal is to add a week to 10 days of “good beets” at the end of the campaign. “We’re not necessarily extending  the overall length of the campaign since our factories are already pretty ‘maxed out,’ ” List says. “By keeping the rain, sun and snow off these beets, we’re hoping to cut down on the amount of rim beets that may go bad due to being exposed to those outside elements.”
About 15% of the overall Michigan Sugar Company crop is placed in ventilated piles at present, with those piles supplying beets to be processed during the final month of the campaign. “Our ventilation used to be done by the end of February,” List relates, “but now we’re going out to the middle or end of March, with those ventilated beets feeding the factories for the last two to three weeks. The same beets with the same quality of ventilation are going a month longer than they used to, so even ventilated beets are giving us some problems at the end.”
The Sebewaing hoop building should help alleviate that dilemma. “If we keep the snow, rain and sun off them and have ventilation, those beets should still be good when they’re hauled into the factory,” List says.
Sebewaing was chosen for the company’s first hoop building mainly because its piling grounds had sufficient room without requiring reconfiguration of power lines, drainage, etc. Assuming the Sebewaing facility proves sufficiently beneficial, however, it’s plausible additional hoop buildings will be constructed at other MSC locations in the future. — Don Lilleboe

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<![CDATA[ Minn-Dak’s Growers Embrace Mobile App]]>Tue, 01 Dec 2015 17:45:57 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-minn-daks-growers-embrace-mobile-app

Initially Designed for Real-Time Harvest Data; Expanded for Season-Long Field Information

Agriculture and mobility. They’ve fit together, like bread and butter, for generations. It’s hard to imagine one without the other. Now, however, “mobility in ag” has taken on a whole new dimension in this digital technology era with the development of mobile apps designed for the farm. A good case in point within the sugarbeet sector is a mobile harvest data app developed by Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in concert with Myriad Mobile, a Fargo, N.D.- based developer of mobile applications for businesses. The app, first used during the 2014 harvest, started out by providing real-time access to scale tickets at piling stations.

The scale ticket totals, calculated in net tons by day and by season, could be accessed by Minn-Dak grower/shareholders at any time, thus allowing them to continually monitor (1) quotas during preharvest to ensure they didn’t go above their quota limit, and (2) truck weights during both preharvest and the main harvest to ensure their fleet stayed within the legal road weight limits.
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The mobile platform was expanded for the 2015 growing season, allowing growers to enter field information all season long — items like planting date, varieties, herbicide and fungicide operations. By the time harvest rolled around, the app’s reporting capabilities also included piler wait times,real-time tons/acre calculation by field, and the ability to filter piling station scale tickets by truck, field and date.
It won’t stop there. Minn-Dak and Myriad Mobile will be holding focus group discussions early this winter (as they did a year ago) to collect grower input and suggestions as to what they like (or don’t) about the mobile app — and what types of additional features they’d like to see incorporated.
Mike Metzger, research agronomistfor the Wahpeton, N.D.-based sugarbeet cooperative, says the time was right for development of a mobile app for its growers. “It’s no secret: the world has gone mobile,” Metzger remarks. “We’re at a transition in our co-op where a lot of guys of my generation — in their mid- to late 30s — are starting to take over operation of the farm. And my generation is very tech savvy. We were looking for a way to tap into that, and the biggest [opportunity] was the harvest: How do we get them more information quicker, almost in a ‘realtime’ fashion?”
The initial app was “very bare bones,” says Tom Knudsen, Minn-Dak’s vice president-agriculture. It basically consisted of the electronic weigh-out ticket, previously provided in hard copy form. But the dozen growers brought in for a focus group following the 2014 season made it clear they’d already moved beyond the initial intent behind the app. “I was just blown away by all the uses they could find for this ‘strippeddown’ app,” Knudsen remarks. “I mean, they would plan their lunch breaks, potty breaks, naps — you name it — based on when the truck would leave the field.”
The second phase of the Minn-Dak mobile app came last spring, with the incorporation of grower practice records. “Back in ‘the day,’ we would have just given them a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, and they filled out one sheet per field. Then, in the mid-2000s, we went online and they could input each field’s info on their computer,” Metzger recounts. “Some would tinker with it on a mobile device, but that usually didn’t go very well.
“So we figured, ‘Hey, if we can make it work where they can enter their information while they’re doing [a particular field operation], we get more information — and better information.” That led to discussions with Ryan Raguse, the president and co-founder of Myriad Mobile — and the son of a Minn- Dak shareholder.
Raguse and his group wrote a user-friendly — but more advanced — program based off the 2014 harvest app experience. “For this one, on the agronomic side, we really ramped up and hit a ‘home run’ right off the bat,” Metzger enthuses. “We told Ryan what we wanted, and his team did it — and they had to do it for two platforms: Android and Apple.”
Myriad Mobile, Sugarbeet Grower Magazine
Left to Right: Ryan Raguse, president and co-founder of Myriad Mobile; Tom Knudsen, Minn-Dak vice president of agriculture; and Mike Metzger, Minn-Dak research agronomist. Photo: Don Lilleboe
Knudsen and Metzger estimate that at least 90% of Minn-Dak shareholder operations were using the mobile app as of the 2015 harvest season. While some older growers may not be quite as comfortable with or accepting of the technology, the younger generation has totally embraced it, they say.“We’ve found that the information we’re providing to them in real-time is almost addictive,” Metzger observes. “They’re always checking the app, checking their loads. We tied in a lot of detail this past year on wait times: they can sort by trucks or by station; do a lot of querying on the app. They absolutely love it.
“The ultimate goal, in my mind, is to make this a ‘one-stop shop’ for information for Minn-Dak,” Metzger continues. “Whether it’s Cercospora DIVs, sugar data, quality information. . . it’s just going to get bigger and better.”
Knudsen points out that while Myriad Mobile is Minn-Dak’s primary partner in terms of programming the mobile app, “there are a couple other players as well, making this work.” Ecliptic Technologies of Moorhead, Minn., handles the co-op’s data base management. AgTerra Technologies out of Sheridan, Wyo., is also involved because Minn-Dak’s AS/400 operating system ties into their database. “So the four of us have to ‘play together,’ and it’s gone well,” Knudsen affirms.
Where might the Minn-Dak mobile app go from here? The possibilities are almost endless, Knudsen, Metzger and Raguse agree. Geo-referencing of individual fields is one example. “As you enter a field or drive by one, you’d be geo-referenced on your app,” Knudsen explains. “So it could give you all sorts of information about that field: variety, planting date, herbicide use, DIVs, etc.”
Another refinement could be the tailoring of information sent out from the co-op to growers based on geography, i.e., sending pertinent notices to some but not to others. Root maggot fly activity is a good example. Root maggot is a problem in parts of Minn-Dak’s northern district but not further south. “So when there’s peak fly activity in the Sabin-Baker (Clay County) area, those guys with fields within a certain determined geography would be notified; but we wouldn’t bother guys down south,” Metzger illustrates.
“Another one — and we’d have to build a prototype first to make sure it actually works — is the technology called ‘iBeacon,’ initially built by Apple,” Raguse says. “It puts out a message saying, ‘This is me.’ You could put those in every truck, and each truck could then register at the piler without having to scan a card.” The iBeacon could even provide accelerometer data for each truck, among other capabilities. That may seem intrusive to some people; but it’s also a safety issue, allowing growers to monitor their truck drivers’ speeds.
“There are all kinds of possibilities,” Raguse affirms. “The real challenge is, how do we take all of this and focus it down into a useable application where the user experiences it in a way that becomes virtually intuitive.”
“That’s what is fun about all this,” Metzger concludes. “Our growers use it, they’re excited about it, and they want to be able to do even more with it. There’s literally no end to where this could go.”
— Don Lilleboe
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<![CDATA[ Monogerm Sugarbeet Seed]]>Tue, 01 Dec 2015 17:27:43 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-monogerm-sugarbeet-seed​A Brief History of Its Origin & Importance
 By Robert Harveson*
Monogerm Seed Ball, Sugarbeet Grower Magazine
A monogerm seed ball (left) compared to a multigerm one (right). Photo: I.O. Skoyen / from ‘Advances in Sugarbeet Production’
Today’s cultivated sugarbeets are derived from wild species of Beta, and these plants possess a natural characteristic where two or more flowers occur as fused clusters to produce multigerm seedballs. Whenever these seedballs were planted, two or more seedlings emerged (photo at right), generally quite close and often intertwined, resulting in huge labor costs due to the need for extensive thinning of emerging seedlings.
The finding of plants that produced single-germ seeds was an enormous benefit to the sugarbeet industry. Modern agriculture has now become dependent upon single-seeded cultivars and precision planting. This trait is known as monogermity.
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Discovering Monogerm Plants in the Former USSR

The search for a source of plants that produced only single-germ seed began more than 100 years ago. This particular feature of sugarbeets (monogermity) was difficult to detect, as it was normally associated with a mutation in plants that have late-season bolting ability, and thus are ordinarily eliminated by natural selection. So it was necessary to look at enormous numbers of plants to find those few that possessed this trait.

The renowned Soviet geneticist Viacheslav F. Savitsky and a colleague, M. G. Bordonos, examined an estimated 22 million plants in order to find approximately 100 seed plants with a mixture of both multigerm and monogerm seedballs. By 1934 they had identified plants that produced a high percentage (90%) of seedballs that were monogerm. Savitsky began transfering this trait into commercial seeds to produce the early monogerm varieties that were eventually developed for use in the USSR and eastern Europe — but this work was interrupted by World War II.

In 1947 Savitsky and his wife, Helen, escaped the Soviet Union and came to the United States. Savitsky was hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and stationed at the USDA sugarbeet laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was tasked with finding sources of monogermity for the U.S. sugar industry.

Discovery of Monogermity in North America

Savitsky conducted an intensive survey in 1948 and found five monogerm plants among 300,000 others in a four-acre seed field north of Salem, Oregon. Two of the plants — designated as SLC 101 and SLC 107 — were true monogerms. Seed from one of these (SLC 101) was distributed to breeders in the U.S., Canada and Europe. That one plant then served as the seed source for incorporating this trait into new monogerm varieties, and still continues for all varieties produced in the U.S. today. Savitsky later found that this condition was controlled by a single recessive gene, and had to be introgressed (transferred) into other beet germplasm before being utilized in commercially acceptable cultivars.This discovery in Oregon occurred with Michigan Hybrid -18, a variety that was derived from the Cercospora leafspot-resistant (CLS) Polish variety Buszczynsky. The Polish variety, in turn, had originally been created from CLS-resistant wild beets from Italy. It was hypothesized that the multiple cycles of inbreeding used in Italy from the wild material that was required to identify the CLS resistance was the possible reason for the rare recessive monogerm trait to be expressed and noticed in Michigan Hybrid-18.

* Robert Harveson is the extension plant pathologist with the University
of Nebraska’s Panhandle Research & Extension Center, Scottsbluff.

Impact on Beet Production

As a result of Savitsky’s stellar work, the monogerm trait has been made available to growers in the U.S. since 1957 and western Europe since the mid-1960s. It was probably the greatest single advancement in sugarbeet production until the development of the Roundup Ready® sugarbeet cultivars in the second decade of the 21st century.
In fact, the monogerm advancement was so influential and important that the ASSBT (American Association of Sugar Beet Technologists) created an award known as “The Savitsky Memorial Award” in honor of his contribution to the industry.
The Savitsky Award is very prestigious and is given, at the discretion of the ASSBT Board of Directors, only to individuals who have had a significant impact on the national and international beet sugar community.
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<![CDATA[RRV Grower Develops Subirrigation System]]>Fri, 31 Jul 2015 20:23:14 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-rrv-grower-develops-subirrigation-systemWater from Drainage Ditch Bolsters Crop When Rain Lags in July/August
PictureGerry Zimmerman stands in front of the 10,000-gallon storage tank located at one of his fields. Water is pumped from the drainage ditch behind it, up through a deflighted grain auger (also behind the tank), and into the tank. Though it’s never totally filled, the tank’s elevation provides the head required to push the irrigation water through the drain tile lines. Photo by Don Lilleboe
With just a small percentage of Red River Valley sugarbeet acreage being grown under any type of irrigation, Gerry Zimmerman already falls within a distinct minority. But it’s the irrigation method he employs that places the western Clay County, Minn., beet, corn and soybean producer in an even smaller group — a very, very small group.

Zimmerman, who farms northwest of Glyndon with his son, Ryan, has developed a subsurface irrigation system on four tile-drained fields as of 2015. While the primary purpose of tile drainage for the Zimmermans is similar to that of other producers — i.e., to drain excess water off their fields — they use those same tile lines to also pump water back into these fields later in the season when the crop can use it due to drier soil moisture conditions.

The water is pumped out of a large nearby drainage ditch (with a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) that eventually discharges into the Buffalo River. Sandbags placed into the ditch bottom (with permission from the local watershed board) form a static dam about 4.5 feet high. The dam is built in May and removed in October each year.

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PictureWater in the dammed drainage ditch is pumped up through a deflighted grain auger and into the tank shown in the photo on page 4. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permits the pumping. Zimmerman’s local watershed board permits the building of a sandbag dam in the bottom of the ditch. Photo by Don Lilleboe
For one field, an old grain auger (with flighting removed) is set atop the ditch bank, with the water then pumped up through the auger and into a 10,000-gallon storage tank at the field head. The tank is never filled; a variable frequency drive and pressure transducer maintain its water level at between six and seven feet. “We don’t need that big a tank, but we need elevation to give us head. That’s what allows us to push water a half mile away,” Zimmerman explains. “The pump is rated at 780 gallons a minute, but we’ve always been down around 150 to 300 just because that’s the capacity of the ditch.”

At another site, further “upstream” on the ditch, a second auger empties directly into the line manifold at the top of that field, since not as much head pressure is required to push the water through those lines.

At both sites, control structures — each servicing 70-75 acres on three quarters and then three structures servicing the other quarter — help Zimmerman gauge and maintain the water table for those fields. As with any irrigated field, the “when to” of irrigating is when the crop shows signs of needing it. “We have to be the judge of what’s in the water table, and then irrigate or not irrigate accordingly,” Zimmerman relates. The control structures, as well as the crop’s visual appearance, help with the “when to” decision. (He may eventually replace the control structures with remote controlled valves that can be buried and farmed over. With the feeder pipes located in the field center, the valves will divert the water from one quarter to another as needed.) 

“As to the ‘how much’ part, we’re sticking with about two inches. We pump two inches of water equivalent,” he says. That’s assuming Mother Nature has been sparse with rainfall in those key row-crop growth months of July and August and that there is available water to accomplish that amount of irrigation.

About 1,100 of the farm’s 2,000 acres are presently tiled, “and our intentions are to keep moving forward,” says Zimmerman, who owns (with a neighbor) and operates his own tile plow. Of the 1,100 tiled acres, 570 are set up for subirrigation as of 2015. “We’re grid tiling, so we’re on half-mile laterals,” he explains. Given their field grade, they may start out with a tile depth of two and a half to three feet, but end up being five to almost six feet by the time they get to the other end of the field. “That’s one question that remains: Will this still work for the deepest part? If we had a field with a natural grade of around 0.1%, that would be the ideal, because then we could put the tile in at about three feet the whole way,” Zimmerman says. “Owning my own equipment allows for continued modification of the systems as we learn what works and what does not work. For instance, we replaced a header pipe in the first field because the initial installation did not work as we thought it would.”

Had he been installing the tile for drainage only, Zimmerman says he would have used four-inch lines at a 55-foot spacing. However, to accommodate the addition of subirrigation capability, he went with three-inch-diameter lateral lines on a 40-foot spacing. (He narrowed it to 35 feet on their most recently tiled field.) The predominant soil type of the subirrigated fields is a Bearden silt loam.

Two of the four Zimmerman subirrigated fields are in sugarbeets as of 2015, with the other two in soybeans. Since the lines are quite deep, the crops wouldn’t benefit from early season irrigation; July and August are the months the system is used — unless it’s a year like 2011, which was so abnormally wet for most of the season that they didn’t pump on any water.

So has the subirrigation system, which the Zimmermans initially installed in 2010, paid off in terms of increased crop yields? Gerry certainly believes so, though results obviously vary from year to year. In 2012, for example, subirrigated corn yielded about 40 bushels more per acre than nearby non-irrigated corn. The next year, though, the advantage was just eight bushels an acre. With sugarbeets, “we have seen 35-ton beets when the rest (of the beet acreage) came in at about 24 tons,” he notes. However, that was not a good apples-to-apples comparison, he emphasizes, since the subirrigated field portion was planted a couple days earlier into better moisture and had a better plant stand.

PictureGerry Zimmerman stands near his second sandbag dam and deflighted auger, pumping water from the drainage ditch up into a manifold feeding drain tile lines in another field. No water storage tank is required for elevation at this location. Photo by Don Lilleboe
From 2012 through 2014, researchers from North Dakota State University recorded data from one of the Zimmermans’ Morken Township fields under a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) grant. (Though the SARE project has ended, the NDSU group is continuing its data collection in 2015.) The project evaluated crop yield, water quality and water balance under undrained (UD), subsurface drained with free outlet (FD), subsurface drainage with controlled drainage structure (CD), and CD plus subsurface irrigation (SI). They found that the crop yields showed some promising improvement with the dual CD (controlled drainage structure) and SI (subirrigation) system setup, despite the extreme wet and drought conditions encountered during the three-year study period. Project coordinator Xinhua Jia, an associate professor in the NDSU Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department, reported that the crop yields with SI were in general 10% higher than those of the CD acreage.

For his part, Gerry Zimmerman knows there’s still a lot to learn about subsurface irrigation and its benefits for his historically dryland farm. But he believes the effort is paying off — and will do so even more as he refines his system. “It’s all about risk management,” he affirms. “This allows us to make use of a water resource, when needed due to lack of rainfall, that would otherwise go unused and just end up back in the river.”
— Don Lilleboe

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<![CDATA[ Strip Tilling Beets into Alfalfa]]>Fri, 31 Jul 2015 20:07:12 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-strip-tilling-beets-into-alfalfaSystem Works Out Well for S.W. Idaho Producers

A field coming out of alfalfa in the spring of 2015 on the Doug Meyers farm near Grand View, Idaho, is strip tilled (left) and then immediately planted to sugarbeets (right). Photo by Terry Cane
PictureScott Bennett
Prior to 2013, Grand View, Idaho, grower Scott Bennett had a very simple approach to producing sugarbeets in a certain field along the edge of town: “I just didn’t put beets there,” he remarks. “The field isn’t even a sandy loam. It’s sand — a sand dune. If you don’t have something there all the time, it will blow away.”

Bennett turned that negative into a positive in 2013 — the year he began to strip till beets after purchasing a 12-row Schlagel machine. After five years, it was time to rotate that sandy field away from alfalfa. He waited until early April to strip till, planted beets and turned on the center pivot, both to water up the beets and to give the remaining between-row alfalfa some growth. A bad windstorm rolled through shortly after planting — wind that would have wiped out the beets had the alfalfa not been there for protection. But the beets held, and there was no need for any replants. That 2013 field produced a good crop of sugarbeets and then went into winter wheat for 2014. Now the sandy ground is back in alfalfa.

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Photos by: Terry Cane
PictureStrip tilling a field coming out of alfalfa and going into beets on the Scott Bennett farm, Grand View, Idaho.
Les Isaac has a few more years of experience with strip-tilled beets on old alfalfa ground, having started the practice in 2008. The Bruneau, Idaho, producer doesn’t own a strip-till unit, however; instead he hires his neighbor, Carlos Ensz, to work the Isaac acres into his schedule prior to strip tilling for his own corn. Like Scott Bennett, Isaac says strip tilling into established alfalfa allows him to grow a quality sugarbeet crop on some very sandy soils. “I’ve replanted different crops due to blowing sand, and I’ve also lost some to frost,” he relates. “But once I started strip tilling — which Roundup Ready® made possible — I just decided I wouldn’t go back. It’s much easier this way.”

Bennett and Isaac are among a number of producers along the Snake River plain of southwestern Idaho who have moved, in recent years, toward strip tilling beets into established alfalfa. Terry Cane, Amalgamated Sugar Company senior crop consultant for the Elwyhee district, works with them. He says that in 2014, 39 fields of beets — comprising about 3,400 out of the 11,000 total grown in that district — were produced under strip till. More than a third (36%) of those strip-tilled beet acres followed alfalfa that year, with another 30% going in after corn. (The district’s beets-on-alfalfa acreage is significantly lower in 2015, mainly because most of the strip-till growers did not have any fields coming out of alfalfa this year.)

PictureA good stand of beets grows in strip-tilled rows between sprayed growth of old alfalfa.
“Growers are seeing the most benefits in the reduction or elimination of damage to young sugarbeets from wind blowing soil,” Cane affirms. Another benefit for some growers, he adds, is improved water uptake, which in turn reduces field runoff and also can allow for extended intervals between irrigations.

“Cost savings vary, depending on the number and type of tillage passes that are eliminated,” Cane indicates. “Some growers estimate $50-75 per acre saved. One grower, who uses a custom operator, has reduced fuel consumption in the spring by two-thirds. Several growers are utilizing custom operators, saving them the cost of equipment and allowing them more time for other spring work.”

Data from the 2014 harvest confirm the viability of beets strip tilled into alfalfa. Averaged across 944 acres produced under this system, yields ran 41.63 tons per acre with sugar at 16.5% and recoverable sugar per acre of 11,496 pounds. That compared to the Elwyhee district averages (across 11,000-plus acres) of 38.21 tons, 16.8% sugar and 10,769 pounds of recoverable sugar.

Averaged across 944 acres in 2014, yields ran 41.63 tons per acre with 
sugar at 16.5% and recoverable sugar per acre of 11,496 pounds.

Most of these growers used Deere MaxEmerge planters with GPS, while one producer (Les Isaac) planted with a 12-row Milton equipped with Accu-Track. “Following a three-foot soil test, approximately half of the recommended nitrogen and all of the phosphate, along with micro-nutrients needed, were injected in the center of the tilled strip at a depth of eight to 10 inches, depending on soil condition,” Cane reports. The balance of the nitrogen requirement was top dressed in dry formation, then incorporated via center pivots.

The alfalfa and weeds were controlled with glyphosate. (Obviously, these fields cannot be planted to Roundup Ready® alfalfa.). “Some fields were treated prior to the last alfalfa cutting the previous year at 32 oz. per acre,” Cane relates. But the majority received either a preplant or pre-emergence application (32 oz.), followed by in-season treatments. He recommends that growers always include an insecticide treatment for cutworm control as well.

Elwyhee growers indicate they need at least 25-30 horsepower per row to adequately work a 12-row strip tiller in established alfalfa. “GPS is a must,” Cane adds, noting that “even with it, growers sometimes find it difficult to stay on the row at harvest.” One solution has been to run dual wheels on the front of the harvester tractor along with those on the rear.

Challenges? “Sometimes in old alfalfa stands, areas can become grassy or ‘soddy,’ ” Cane observes. “When this happens, the ripper shank mark does not close up correctly, making it a little harder to plant in.” While growers still have been able to achieve acceptable stands and yields in such conditions, a light disking of the soddy areas (a couple inches deep, in two cross-direction passes) will help the situation, he says. “Our experience has been that the more attached the alfalfa roots are, the better.”

The Amalgamated crop consultant mentions a few more considerations he has encountered regarding strip tilling beets into established alfalfa in the Elwyhee district. It’s important, he observes, to:

• Make well-defined, accurate guide marks for the planter tractor.

• Have the correct soil moisture — not too wet and not too dry.

• Be sure to spray out the alfalfa before it begins to compete with the sugarbeets. 
— Don Lilleboe

<![CDATA[Michigan Experiments With Covered Field-Stored Piles]]>Fri, 31 Jul 2015 19:38:02 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/michigan-experiments-with-covered-field-stored-pilesby: Richard List PicturePhoto: Rick List / Covered Pile Containing 5,000 Tons of Sugarbeets
The Europeans have been piling sugarbeets at field edges (in what they call “clamps”) for many years, with those beets later run through cleaner/loaders prior to being hauled to the factory for processing. They also have a long history of utilizing self-propelled beet harvesters, usually under a custom group-harvest arrangement.

Michigan and Ontario beet growers have, in recent years, started to emulate the Europeans. As of 2014, more than 55 self-propelled beet harvesters were operating in the Michigan/Ontario region, as were about 15 cleaner/loaders. The harvesters were Ropa, Holmer, Grimme, Vervaet and Agrifac models; the cleaner/loaders consisted of the Ropa “Maus” and the Holmer “Terra Felis” models. During the 2014 harvest season, 1.37 million tons (nearly 29% of the total Michigan Sugar Company crop) went through the cleaner/loader process prior to being trucked to factories. That compared to 240,000 tons in 2010 and 132,000 tons in 2005.

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Photos: Rick List
PictureBreathable fabric covers a pile of harvested beets along a Michigan field.
What are the benefits of the cleaner/loader operation? For participating growers, there are five main ones: (1) separating harvest from delivery, i.e., no waiting for trucks to return from the piling ground or factory; (2) leaving more soil in the field, thus resulting in more net tons of beets per load; (3) keeping trucks out of most fields with roadside loading; (4) use of larger trucks, meaning fewer trucks on the road; and (5) facilitating the use of commercial haulers, i.e., the grower doesn’t need to supply as many trucks or drivers on his own.

For Michigan Sugar Company (MSC), the main benefits of the cleaner/loader approach are three-fold: (1) it relieves space and congestion at piling grounds; (2) it allows some piling grounds (six in 2014) to remain closed during the early delivery period; and (3) these beets directly feed the “mouths” of the factories.

Of course, there also are issues with the system, and important questions remain. For growers, the cleaner/loader use involves another equipment cost; it may entail some beets remaining on the ground too long (should the cleaner/loader break down); and there are some extra rules to be followed in delivering these beets.

On the company side, it’s challenging for MSC to determine exactly how many tons are “out there” on the ground on a given day; likewise, to know how long each of the field-edge piles have been sitting there. Also, did any of those beets freeze — or, conversely, get too warm?

Another big question is: How many more cleaner/loader-handled beets can the company accommodate? And, in concert with that, can some of the field piles be covered following harvest, left to sit until December, and then trucked to the factory at that point for processing? What would that imply when it comes to quality retention? Does the company pay a premium to the grower for holding the beets for that period? If so, how much? And, who should pay for the costs of covering the piles?

To begin answering those and other questions, Michigan Sugar Company has, for the past three years, been experimenting with covered beet piles at field edges. Last fall, about 24,000 tons of sugarbeets in 11 different field piles

PictureCovering is removed weeks later prior to hauling beets to the factory.
Another big question is: How many more cleaner/loader-handled beets can the company accommodate? And, in concert with that, can some of the field piles be covered following harvest, left to sit until December, and then trucked to the factory at that point for processing? What would that imply when it comes to quality retention? Does the company pay a premium to the grower for holding the beets for that period? If so, how much? And, who should pay for the costs of covering the piles?

To begin answering those and other questions, Michigan Sugar Company has, for the past three years, been experimenting with covered beet piles at field edges. Last fall, about 24,000 tons of sugarbeets in 11 different field piles were covered in November, then uncovered a few weeks later and delivered to factories for processing. The special fabric covering each of these piles allowed moisture to escape while simultaneously keeping rain and snow from entering the pile and freezing it solid.

Captive samples from the covered piles during the 2014/15 campaign revealed an average total shrink (from when they were covered in mid-November until they were uncovered in mid-December) of 2.7%. Shrink at the top of the piles was 12.2%, while shrink in the pile interior averaged 1.3%. By comparison, the shrink numbers in 2013/14 piles with no covers were 5.6% (total), 19.5% (top) and 3.5% (interior).

Sugar percentage and recoverable white sugar per ton (RWST) for those 11 covered piles also were sampled. Results showed an average sugar of 19.65% when the piles were covered in November, and an average of 18.95% when uncovered in December. For RWST, the numbers were 301.2 pounds and 283.30 pounds, respectively. Factoring in a 2.7% shrink, and the resulting decrease in RWST came out to 8.5%.

PictureBeet samples from a covered field pile (left) and uncovered pile (right), Dec.15, 2014.
How did the sugar percentage of the field covered piles compared to that of uncovered beets delivered directly to the factory? For the factory beets, average sugar as of mid-November was 17.84%; as of mid-December, 17.24%, for a decrease of 3.4%. For the field piled beets, average sugar as of mid-November ran 19.65%; as of mid-December 18.95%, for a decrease of 3.6%. So the percent sugar loss was quite parallel.

Michigan Sugar Company plans to again covered 24,000 to 25,000 tons of field piled sugarbeets following the 2015 harvest, leaving them in growers’ fields until December. The beets will be tested for shrink and for sugar loss/gain to determine whether a premium needs to be paid to growers who leave sugarbeets in their fields for later delivery. This approach does show considerable promise, and its successful implementation would allow for more cleaner/loader operations in the Michigan /Ontario growing region.

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<![CDATA[1965]]>Fri, 31 Jul 2015 19:16:07 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/1965
Editor’s Note: One of our regular offerings in The Sugarbeet Grower is the “30 Years Ago” page, featuring highlights from the issue that was published 30 years prior to the current issue of this magazine.

As the schedule in 1985 did not include a July or August issue, we opted to reach back even further into our archives this month — back a half century, in fact, to 1965. The short excerpts on this page come from the Spring, Summer and Fall 1965 issues of The Sugarbeet Grower. Enjoy!

Spring 1965:
Grand Island, Belle Fourche Closed

“Two of the nation’s 60 operating beet sugar factories — including the second oldest — closed their doors at the end of the 1964-65 campaign.

“American Crystal Sugar Company President H. von Bergen announced on November 23 that the company would close down operations at Grand Island, Nebraska, at the end of the 1964 campaign.

“Douglas Love, president of Utah- Idaho Sugar Company, announced on November 30 that the Belle Fourche, South Dakota, processing plant would, likewise, close down following the 1964 campaign. . . .

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“The Grand Island plant was built in 1890 by H.T. Oxnard, head of the Oxnard Beet Sugar Company and a forerunner of the present American Crystal Sugar Company. . . .

“The closing of the South Dakota plant, built in 1927, reduces to five the number of processing facilities operated by Utah-Idaho. Other plants are located at Garland, Utah, Idaho Falls, Idaho, West Jordan, Utah, Toppenish, Washington and Moses Lake, Washington.”

Beet Marketing Allotments Set

Summer 1965:
Empire Sugar Enlarges New York Facility

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced marketing allotments for the domestic beet sugar industry for the calendar year 1965. The allotments represent 90 percent (2,385,000 short tons, raw value) of the current quota of 2,650,000 tons.”

Note: Company allotments, in short tons, raw value, were as follows:

— Amalgamated Sugar Company: 291,805
— American Crystal Sugar Co.: 271,556
— Buckeye Sugars, Inc.: 14,262
— Empire Sugar Company: 10,422
— Great Western Sugar Company: 515,238
— Holly Sugar Corp.: 383,270
— Layton Sugar Company: 13,618
— Michigan Sugar Company: 79,301
— Monitor Sugar Division, Robt. Gage Coal Co.: 36,753
— National Sugar Mfg. Co.: 7,584
— Spreckels Sugar Co., Division of American Sugar Co.: 338,909
— Union Sugar Div., Consolidated Foods Corp.: 113,574
— Utah-Idaho Sugar Co.: 248,708
“Cayuga County, New York’s beet cane sugar refinery has a new price tag of $25 million and is in the process of increasing construction employment from 350 to 500. . . . Empire is a subsidiary of the Pepsi-Cola Company.

“[Empire President John] Klett said the new cost estimate was made after it was decided to boost the beet-slicing capacity at the refinery. . . . He said the original design was for 4,000 tons of beets per day.”

Maine Beet Sugar Processing Plant Plans Announced

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on March 23 that the sugarbeet factory in Aroostook County, Maine, would be built by the Aroostook Development Corporation and operated by the Great Northern Sugar Company of Easton, Maine.

“On April 17, 1964, the Department announced that 33,000 acres had been committed from the national sugarbeet acreage reserve to farms in Aroostook County, Maine, for growing sugarbeets for a factory to be built by the Great Western Sugar Company of Denver, Colo. That Company has informed the Department that it is withdrawing from the project.”

Fall 1965:
American Crystal’s Drayton Mill Opens September 22

“The Red River Valley of the North, already world noted for its highly concentrated beet sugar processing facilities, moves another step forward with the opening of American Crystal Sugar Company’s new Drayton, North Dakota plant on September 22.

“The $20,000,000 facility, capable of slicing 5,000 tons of beets per day, raises the rated capacity of the company’s valley factories to over 15,000 tons per day.

“Drayton represents the fourth plant built in the fertile Red River Valley of American Crystal and is the third to be erected since the end of World War II.

“The Drayton story started many years ago as an idea in the minds of progressive farmers and businessmen in the Drayton area. . . . American Crystal Sugar Company entered the Drayton picture on the eve of hearings in Washington before Department of Agriculture officials. The USDA, holding hearings under a Congressional edict contained in 1962 amendments to the Sugar Act, heard stories and pleas from more than a dozen applicants. Finally the word was received in early 1963. Drayton was to receive an allotment for 50,000 tons. American Crystal was the company who would build and operate the facility.”

1,000 at C & D Experimental Farm Field Day

“Despite current low Canadian sugar prices and controlled acreage in the U.S. — which has caused a general 10 percent acreage decrease — there is still considerable interest [in Ontario] in the sugarbeet crop.

“This was indicated by close to 12,000 farmers from both sides of the border who attended the fourth annual spring sugarbeet demonstration at Canada and Dominion Sugar Company Limited’s experimental farm in Dover Township on June 10.

“Most of the continued interest, according to top beet officials in attendance, is due to the widespread use of mechanical equipment and chemical sprays, which help reduce the need for hand labor.”

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