System Works Out Well for S.W. Idaho Producers
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.
Read our entire issue and back issues. Click here.
Photos by: Terry Cane
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.)
“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
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower