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One of two Ropa 'Tiger' harvesters owned by the Roggenbucks. Photo: Don Lilleboe
Were it not for the American-made semis rumbling to and from field perimeters, visitors to Helena Valley Farms during the sugarbeet harvest season could be excused for wondering if they weren’t actually somewhere in Europe rather than the Thumb region of eastern Michigan. Two huge Ropa “Tiger” self-propelled harvesters move up and down the field, each dumping its topped and lifted beets into a 34-ton-capacity “Big Bear” track cart. The cart in turn unloads its contents on field headlands, where the beets sit for at least a couple days before being run through a self-propelled “Maus” — another Ropa-built unit that cleans and loads the piled beets into trucks for the trip to the factory.
The only parts of North Dakota where you’ll find commercial sugarbeet fields are in the Red River Valley along the state’s eastern edge and in the Mon-Dak vicinity of northwestern North Dakota. The crop has never been grown commercially anywhere else in the Peace Garden State.
But there’s a good chance it will be, one day soon.
Along with North Dakota, energy beets also are receiving close attention in several other states — and especially in the Central Valley of California. There, the research and development catalyst has been Mendota Bioenergy LLC, a group comprised of former Spreckels Sugar Company growers from Fresno County. Also working on the project are various university water/energy/ biomass specialists and several companies with experience in biofuels engineering and development.
Energy Beet Agronomics: 2010 N.D. Yield Trials Demonstrate Productivity; Seed Companies Lay Groundwork With Special Varieties
When a commercial energy beet industry does takes root and grow in North Dakota, it will do so in areas outside the traditional beet belt. Beets for biofuel will be grown in locales where farmers have a long history of wheat, barley and sunflower production, not sugarbeets.