<![CDATA[The Sugarbeet Grower Magazine - Features]]>Fri, 22 Jan 2016 14:32:27 -0800EditMySite<![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.”

Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
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
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
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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.
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
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
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
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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.
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.

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.
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.

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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.

Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.

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

Picture
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



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<![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.

Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.

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. . . .

Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
“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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<![CDATA[Idahoan Includes Beets Under Drip]]>Tue, 28 Apr 2015 18:38:11 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-idahoan-includes-beets-under-dripBob McKellip’s Irrigation System Cuts Crop Water Consumption Dramatically

Sugarbeet Grower Magazine, Drip-Irrigation FieldDrip-Irrigated Sugarbeet Field, 2013 - Photo: Bob McKellip
Do a web search of “water use efficiency in agriculture,” and you’ll come up with a huge number of results. For Bob McKellip, the ultimate in water use efficiency on his farm boils down to two words: drip irrigation.

McKellip, who lives and works in the Treasure Valley north of Nampa, Idaho, installed his first drip irrigation — a Toro system — on one of RMF Farms’ fields in 2011. He installed a second system the following year; then, in 2013, a third. That 2013 field was seeded into sugarbeets. Prior to those drip systems, all his fields were grown under furrow irrigation.

Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.

Sugarbeet Grower Magazine, Bob McKellip
Bob McKellip stands next to the main drip irrigation line feeding a 2014 mint field. - Photo: Don Lilleboe
A drip-irrigated field of mint in 2012 yielded 133 pounds of mint per acre, compared to a nearby furrow-irrigated mint field that came off at 94 pounds. The bottom line was $585 more income per acre, along with significant savings in water and fertilizer use, combined with less labor, fuel, equipment usage and insecticide inputs.

The 2013 drip-irrigated sugarbeet field’s tonnage was about equal to that year’s furrow-irrigated beets. However, the drip beets were planted three weeks later due to installation of the drip. Plus, those drip-irrigated beets produced their yield with a lot less water. “Typically, sugarbeets here will, on average, take between 45 to 55 inches of water through furrow irrigation,” McKellip says. “On the drip, we used less than 25 inches.” Also, having been land leveled many years ago, half of that field is quite gravelly, he adds. “We usually don’t grow much of a crop there with furrow irrigation because we just can’t keep the water adequate. But with drip, the sugarbeet field was perfectly uniform from corner to corner; the soil type didn’t matter. I experienced that with mint as well.”

The Canyon County producer’s standard rotation, along with sugarbeets, consists of four years in mint, followed by corn, then wheat. Unless he installs drip irrigation on another field in upcoming seasons, beets likely will not be planted again on a drip-irrigated field until 2018 or 2019.

McKellip’s drip tape lines are installed at a depth of nine inches. Their expected lifespan is between eight to 10 years. Rodents — especially gophers — have an affinity for the tapes, however, so repairs are not uncommon. There’s no deep tillage in a drip field, of course. Sensors keep McKellip apprised of soil moisture conditions so that he can time irrigations appropriately. “The sensors are on a logger, set nine inches deep between the rows and 18 inches underneath the sugarbeet or other crop rows,” he explains. “We keep track of the moisture and irrigate until the moisture starts increasing on the 18-inch [sensors]. We don’t want to push the moisture too deep, because that will leach down fertilizer; there’s no reason to have it ‘super wet’ down at that depth.

“We watch the sensor at 18 inches; and as it starts to move up or down, that determines when we’re going to water. The nine-inch sensors obviously tell us when it’s time to irrigate.”

There’s certainly a significant investment of labor and time in the first year that a drip system is installed. After that, however, “there’s virtually no labor” involved, McKellip notes. “The controller is totally automatic.” 

Concurrent with its water savings compared to furrow irrigation, McKellip emphasizes that there is no runoff from the drip-irrigated fields.

The crop’s complete fertility needs are fed through the tape. “We’re using about 50% less [fertilizer] on our mint, because we put it all through the system and don’t leach any out,” McKellip relates. “We’re just feeding the plant as it needs it, putting on a little at a time.” In the 2012-harvested mint, for example, he applied a total of 140 pounds of nitrate fertilizer per acre on the drip acres and 300 pounds on the furrow-irrigated mint — and the drip ended up yielding about 40% more.

About 30% less nitrogen was applied to the 2013 drip-irrigated sugarbeets, compared to that season’s furrow-irrigated beets.
Sugarbeet Grower Magazine, RMF Farms filter
Photo: Don Lilleboe
LEFT: This trio of media filters at RMF Farms filter out sediment in the irrigation water, according to size, before it moves through the main line and into the drip tapes. Bob McKellip applies all the crop’s fertilizer needs through the tapes. “With the automated drip system, about all I do is ‘push a button’ to irrigate and fertigate,” he says.
McKellip’s 2013 drip beets were harvested with a Holmer self-propelled unit with its wide flotation tires. “There were no trucks in the field, as we didn’t want to damage the tape with compaction,” he says. A ROPA Maus loaded the beets onto trucks at field’s edge for transport to the factory.

McKellip says the cost of installing a drip irrigation system in his area runs between $1,200-$1,400 an acre. He benefited from a 50% cost-share program offered through the Lower Boise Watershed Council on his initial installation. Payback is estimated at 1.2 years with the cost-share, or 2.8 years without it.

“Mine is a semi-permanent system, so we’re using heavier drip tape and more-permanent fixtures,” he points out. “Components like the filters and the main line are reusable; so while we’ll need to replace the drip tape when it wears out, those other items remain intact.”

McKellip, who is president of the Idaho Mint Growers Association, believes more of the state’s mint will be grown under drip irrigation in the future — and probably more beet acres as well. Growers in his area are already quite familiar with such systems since a number of onion producers use drip. Scientists at the University of Idaho’s Parma Research & Extension Center have undertaken studies in recent years comparing drip, furrow and overhead irrigation systems and their viability for mint producers.

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<![CDATA[Sustainable Beet Production In the Great Lakes Region]]>Tue, 28 Apr 2015 18:24:59 GMThttp://www.sugarpub.com/features/-sustainable-beet-production-in-the-great-lakes-region By Steve Poindexter*
Sugarbeet Grower Magazine, Sugarbeet fieldPhoto: Don Lilleboe
The legal definition of “sustainable agriculture” (U.S. Code Title 7 Section 3103) is an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that over the long term:

• Satisfy human food and fiber needs.

• Enhance environmental quality and the natural resources upon which the agriculture economy depends.

• Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.

• Sustain the economic viability of farm operations. 

• Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. That definition is the central element of the legislation of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In simple terms, sustainable agriculture has environmental, social and economic dimensions.

Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.

The main principle behind sustainability is that we must meet the food and fiber needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This is important as world populations grow. In 2009 the world population was about 6.7 billion — and projected to rise to about 9.2 billion people by 2050. In order to meet the needs of a hungry world, food production (including sugar) must increase in that period of time on similar acres as we have today.

Efficient use and management of water resources must be part of sustainability. The Great Lakes sugarbeet industry is located in the heart of one of the world’s largest fresh water reservoirs. Because of this, we farm in what is termed an “environmentally sensitive” area. In Saginaw County, Mich., alone, there are more than 1,800 miles of open drains. It is critical that both ground and surface water remain potable. Pesticide, phosphate, nitrate and coliform bacteria contamination are the largest concerns in the Greats Lakes growing region. Overuse or improper management by any of the four can spell disaster. Farming must be compatible with the natural resources surrounding it. If production of food or fiber degrades the natural resource base (soil or water), it decreases the ability of future generations to flourish.

Have the Great Lakes sugarbeet producers done a good job over the last 30 years of adjusting production aspects that have improved sustainability? In many ways, we have. Sugarbeet growers have implemented a variety of site-specific production practices based on soil characteristics, proximity to water, topography and climate. The result has been an improvement in soil and water quality, reduction of off-site movement of fertilizers and pesticides, and increasing yields. The Michigan sugar industry has averaged an annual yield improvement of 0.6 ton per acre since 1997 and, at the same time, improved beet quality. Productivity has increased, even though very little acreage is irrigated.

* Steve Poindexter is senior sugarbeet educator with the Michigan State University Extension Service and director of Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement. This article initially appeared in Michigan Sugar Company’s magazine, Newsbeet, and is reprinted here with permission.

Proper soil management protects and enhances productivity. It includes using cover crops, manures and reduced tillage. Over time, growers have reduced tillage operations, including converting from moldboard plowing to chisel plowing and/or some type of conservation tillage. Conservation tillage systems are good for the environment by keeping soil and water from running off fields and improving soil organic matter. In the last 10 years, cover crops — such as oilseed radish, clover and cereals — have become commonplace in Michigan. We now have a much better understanding of how to apply manure responsibly. Building soil organic matter is a sustainable long-term process that will improve soil health, tilth and soil microbial life.

We are fortunate, in the Great Lakes growing region, to have the opportunity to diversify in many crops and livestock enterprises. Many areas in the United States do not have the option of growing sugarbeets, dry beans, cucumbers or even winter wheat. Diversified farms are usually more economically and ecologically resilient. Longer rotations reduce insect, disease and weed problems. Longer rotations also will generally improve yields and offer economic diversity. These alternative crops also spur economic diversity. Examples of this are Michigan Sugar Company, Star of the West Milling and multiple pickle and bean companies. 

Site-specific technology and practices are widely utilized and are now considered the “norm” in agriculture. We used to treat each “farm” differently when it came to fertilizers and lime. Now each “acre” can be grid sampled, and nutrients are applied accordingly. Growers now are selecting specific varieties for specific fields. These varieties may have certain disease resistance or nematode tolerance. The ability to use genetic resistance can reduce pesticide use and improve yield/quality. Sustainable agriculture systems do not mean “no” use of crop protection chemicals or fertilizers. They do mean, through good, sustainable management practices, that pesticides/fertilizers are used appropriately along with “natural processes.” Examples would be clover cover crops that reduce nitrogen fertilizer. Genetics have improved resistance to pests, which can reduce crop protection sprays.

The Michigan sugarbeet industry has averaged an annual yield improvement of 
0.6 ton/acre since 1997 while also improving beet quality.

Have we done all that we can to farm in a sustainable 
and responsible manner? Naturally, the answer to such a question is always “no.” As sustainable technology improves, there is always more to do. After all, sustainability in farming is a direction, not a destination.

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