The Tibbetts brothers — Cody, Brock and Todd — are quick to emphasize that they still have a lot to learn about growing sugarbeets. After all, 2012 was just their third year of raising this crop. Plus, “our place is fundamentally a ranch, so it seems like the cows come first," quips Cody.
Cody (left) and Brock (center) Tibbetts with Sidney Sugars agriculturist Todd Erickson.
Still, they seem to be pretty quick learners. The Tibbetts brothers were recently recognized as being among Sidney Sugars’ top producers this past season for averaging 30.7 tons with 19.33% sugar across a 118-acre contract — nearly three tons and 1%, respectively, above the station average. That farm was planted after a conventional till process, but the Tibbetts are strip-tilling most of their sugarbeet acres.
The Tibbetts farm near Terry, Mont., is almost 90 miles southwest of the Sidney Sugars factory. Their roots run deep in the area. As a youth, their father, Steve, camped in a sheep-camp wagon while working in the outlying areas of the family’s sprawling cattle/ sheep ranch. The Tibbetts have grown dryland no-till wheat and corn for a number of years; but their “new” crop — sugarbeets — mostly follows irrigated corn under a strip-till scenario.
They’ll leave the corn stalks standing over winter to trap some snow, then do the strip-till pass in the spring. Working the tilled zone to an eight- to 10-inch depth, they put on 60-65% of their anticipated liquid nitrogen needs with the strip-till unit. (The remainder is applied in-season through the center pivot.) The sugarbeet planter usually heads down the rows within a couple hours of the strip-till pass.
Why strip till and why not a fall strip-till pass? “Although we’re drier here than in the Midwest, our corn does not come off until very late,” Cody relates. “So we don’t have a chance to do fall tillage, and we get virtually no breakdown [of corn residue] in the fall. With so little residue breakdown, we seem to need a system that moves the residue out of the way rather than one that relies on seeding through residue.” Also, they’ve been putting cows out on some of the corn ground into early spring to feed — and, simultaneously, to help ‘manage’ the corn residue. That’s changing in 2013, though. “This year (2012), we probably left the cows on too long, so there was more compaction.” Brock says. “We won’t be keeping the cows on those fields in the spring after the frost goes out” this coming season.
Like a number of other strip-till producers in 22-inch rows, the Tibbetts have had their struggles with handling the heavy corn residue during the strip-till pass. That’s one reason why they’re going with a new implement this year — a Schlagel Till-N-Plant 2. In 2012 the majority of their beets were strip tilled into full corn residue that had been grazed, but they also had some strip-tilled beets behind corn residue that had been windrowed and baled. Reluctantly, they had to burn off some corn residue that had not been grazed or baled. Cody explains the reluctance to remove all of the residue through burning: “The beets came up really well on those burned acres; but then, when we had a lot of wind last spring — especially in sandier soils, they really had no protection. The young beets with protection from the residue seemed healthier after winds.
“But residue management issues aside, when we compare the seedbed from behind a disk ripper/roller harrow with that from strip till, we’ve found the strip-tilled seedbed is better and has more moisture.”
One advantage of the heavy corn residue has been enhanced soil moisture retention. “In the spring, the ground didn’t crust or dry out when those beet seedlings were so vulnerable,” Cody remarks. The residue cover also translated into a little lower irrigation water requirements, they believe.
The Tibbetts would like to bale the corn residue that goes through the combine by attaching a baler directly to the combine. “The benefit would be two-fold,” Brock explains. “We’re getting all the best feed in those bales, and there wouldn’t be so much ‘loose’ residue out there during the strip-till pass and planting; yet we’d still have the standing stalks.” — Don Lilleboe
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower