— Positive & Progressive —
Sugarbeet roots run deep and not only out in the field. Throughout most sugarbeet production regions, there are a number of families whose sugarbeet “roots” go back at least several decades, spanning three, four or even more generations.
So it is with the Lungrens of Wor- land, Wyo. Adam Lungren was born in Russia and came to the United States in the early 1900s at age 10. He lived and worked in Idaho, Kansas, Ne- braska and South Dakota before fi- nally planting his roots in north central Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin. There he worked the beet fields, eventually establishing his own farm.
Adam’s son, Lloyd, has clear if not always fond memories of laboring in sugarbeet fields as a child, long before mechanization, long before monogerm seed or planting to stand. “My mom sewed patches on our pants knees, and we crawled down the rows and thinned the beets with a hoe,” he attests. He also recalls the sting in his shins from nicking himself with the point of the beet topping knife.
Lloyd Lungren is now 87 years old — and still very involved in the family farming operation near Worland. “He won’t quit!” jests his son, Vance, Sr. “If I want a paycheck, I have to work for it!” quips Lloyd in response. That operation now includes brothers Vance, Jr., and Clint. Lloyd attended college for two years; his son and grandsons are University of Wyoming graduates.
‘We’ve implemented quite a few center pivot sprinklers in the last 10 years, and that has been a huge plus for us.’
Along with sugarbeets, the Lungrens produce malt barley, corn, pinto beans, alfalfa for seed and a small acreage of hay alfalfa, plus running 850 head of cattle. Their beets currently are on a one-in-three year rotation schedule; but about a decade ago, when it was a struggle to get enough acres to keep the local sugarbeet factory operating, they were on a one-in- two schedule in some fields.
The Worland factory, owned and operated for several decades by Holly Sugar Corporation, was purchased by Wyoming Sugar Company — a group of local beet growers and other investors — in 2002 in order to keep beets in the Big Horn Basin and Fremont County. (Wyoming Sugar, chaired by longtime Worland area grower-leader Dick McKamey, has since transitioned to being wholly owned by growers.)
There was a period, though, when the leaders of Wyoming Sugar strained to get enough acreage to keep the fac- tory viable. One year, when a mini- mum of 6,500 acres were needed to be committed, “it was literally at the last hour that we reached our goal,” recalls Vance, Jr., who now sits on WSC’s board of directors. “A few guys stepped up and said, ‘We’ll plant some extras, even though it’s going to mess up our rotation.’ That kept it going.
“We run 10,000 acres now — and it works well at that level, though we’re still pretty ‘small potatoes’ compared to the other sugarbeet processors.”
The need for more acreage was a driver in Wyoming Sugar Company’s decision to approve the planting of Roundup Ready® sugarbeets in 2007 — the first U.S. beet processor to do so. When, after a difficult 2006 season, some area growers indicated they would not plant beets in 2007 unless Roundup Ready varieties were avail- able, the company decided to make the leap a year ahead of everyone else — and it paid off.
Like growers everywhere, the Lungrens have made significant changes in their farming operation to stay ahead of the curve and remain profitable.
Transitioning from surface irrigation into more center-pivot systems has been a major move. About 40% of their crop acres remain under furrow irrigation, partly because some fields don’t lend themselves well to pivots due to their small size or irregular shape. “But we’ve implemented quite a few center pivot sprinklers in the last 10 years, and that has been a huge plus for us,” Vance, Jr., affirms. “It’s allowed us to cut back on some inputs and monitor our nitrates better, adding them through the sprinklers if we need more.” (They’ll add a sidedress rate on their flood-irrigated beets if in-season petiole samples call for it.)
The sprinklers also have helped the Lungrens to better manage spring soil crusting on lighter ground by wetting it down as the beets are emerging.
Another big transition during the past decade has been in the tillage arena. “We do minimum till — strip till — on most of our ground,” Vance, Sr., explains. “We used to think we had to have that bed perfectly groomed,” Vance, Jr., adds. “The first time we planted beets into strip till (2006), [the seedbed] was full of straw and just looked horrible. But they came up and did great. I think a little residue sometimes provides a ‘route out’ for those young beets, a channel of sorts. There’s not a slabby crust over the top.”
The Lungrens conduct the strip-till pass primarily in the spring because they run cattle over winter on the previous crop’s residue. They were still applying Telone for nematode control the first year they experimented with strip till. Having broadcast Telone at a 12- to 14-gallon rate, they thought by placing it only in the zone where the next season’s beets would be (this in the pre-GPS era), they could cut back to a seven- or eight-gallon rate.
“So we started doing that on some of our lighter soils,” Vance, Jr., recounts. “Prior to then, we had been moldboard plowing, with all the field passes associated with it. We put some residue managers on the front of the Telone rig, [essentially developing our own strip-till implement]. We didn’t have GPS at the time, and there wasn’t much ‘wiggle room’ on those 22- inch rows. The planter struggled constantly back and forth.
“Then along came GPS. We had proven the strip-till theory to our- selves, so with GPS we became able to make good passes with the strip tiller and follow up with the planter.” The Lungrens now use an Orthman 1tRIPr strip-till machine.
Residue plugging — not an uncommon problem with 22-inch rows follow- ing on the heels of high-yielding grain or corn fields — has not been a problem for the Lungrens. That’s because on their heavier ground, they’ll com- monly work it first with a disk and roller harrow prior to the strip-till pass. “We usually do straight strip till just on the sandier ground that’s more likely to blow,” Clint notes.
“Also, we run cattle, and they consume a lot of that residue,” adds his brother. “In fact, when we harvest a barley crop, we follow right behind the combine with a grain drill and reseed a crop of barley. We’ll water that up with the pivot — and sometimes be- hind flood irrigation — and then the cattle come in and eat during winter. They’ll clean it up pretty good; but there’s still enough residue there to hold the soil from wind erosion.”
Past experience has taught the Lungrens to pull the cattle off their fields before the spring thaw begins so that compaction isn’t excessive. “Still, on heavier ground that doesn’t strip till well in the spring, we’ll run a disk and roller harrow through; then strip till and plant,” Vance, Jr., explains.
The third big change in the Lungren sugarbeet production system across the past several years has been, as elsewhere, the planting of Roundup Ready varieties.
To date, though 2013 was their seventh season with Roundup Ready beets, the Lungrens have not yet seen kochia or other resistance issues in their beet fields. But that doesn’t mean they are at all complacent. “It’s (resistance) around us, and we are fearful we’ll start seeing it,” Vance, Jr., remarks. “But we try to have a good rotation out there. Having pinto beans helps, because that’s a different [herbi- cide] chemistry. Our seed alfalfa can provide some other chemistry, too.”
While some area growers have been considering Nortron again, “we really prefer not to go there,” he adds. “Of all the chemicals we used to deal with, I always felt Nortron hurt us most in terms of early crop injury.”
It’s hands down my favorite crop. . . .
What are their biggest sugarbeet production challenges as of 2013? The Lungrens hesitate before answering. They believe their system is working well, especially with their successful forays into center pivots, strip till and Roundup Ready beets.
“The flood-irrigated acres are the ones we struggle with most,” Clint muses. “We’re so flat here, and you always get them too wet, it seems. It’s hard to get the water down the rows fast enough.” Eliminating ditches and lengthening rows has helped in one re- spect (less labor), but been challenging in another: attaining a uniform water- ing down the entire length of row since “we’re trying to push the water farther in the same amount of time,” his brother notes. And on some of their furrow-irrigated fields with longer runs, “we’ve managed to squeeze in a center pivot. We can get creative!”
One locale in particular comes to mind for Vance, Sr. “It used to be our worst place” when under 100% flood ir- rigation, he recalls. “Steep slopes and sandy. Dad started out there — and about ruined his back. Then I got into it. And then [Vance, Jr., and Clint].” Then Lungrens installed center pivots, “and now it’s one of our best places.”
That progressive attitude lies at the core of the Lungren family’s optimism about the future of sugarbeets on their Washakie County farm. “It’s hands down my favorite crop,” en- thuses Vance, Jr.
“There were definitely years when we just scraped by with this crop; we barely held it together,” he continues. But the higher beet payments of the past couple years were “a savior” for the Lungrens and their fellow Worland area growers, allowing for reinvestment in equipment and other inputs that had been out of reach during tougher times. Of course, the oversupplied sugar market has tarnished that shine in recent months. “We know we’re going to struggle through down years again. But I still think we’ll be alright.” — Don Lilleboe
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower