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Improved soil health, competitive yields during dry seasons and increased farm income are some of the benefits of energy beets that farmers will learn about during plot tours being held across North Dakota in August and September.
Energy beets are sugar beets bred for the biofuel market and for industrial purposes, used to create ethanol and high-value chemicals. Representatives from the energy beet project will discuss the project research so far, the positive impact to soil health, the cropâ€™s tolerance to dry and saline soils, and the progress on commercializing this new industrial crop.
Everyone is welcome to attend the plot tours, including growers and members of the community.
Barnes County Extension Agent Randy Grueneich said Monday the Litchville site has been operating about two years, and the site near Dazey is relatively new. He said the trials are important to get yield data so federal crop insurance will be available to farmers risking the new crop.
Sugar beets are not a traditional crop in Barnes County, but, Grueneich said, "I've been pleasantly surprised with some excellent yields," at the Dazey and Litchville sites.
One of the scheduled tours will be in Barnes County, from 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at Dennis Nelson Farms.
The demonstration and yield trial plots include both dryland and irrigated sites across the state, and this is the fourth year for some of the plots. This yearâ€™s irrigated sites are near Dazey/Hannaford, Carrington, Oakes, Williston and Turtle Lake, and the dryland locations are near Dazey/Hannaford, Carrington, Spiritwood, Langdon, Litchville, Harvey and Colgate. Additional plots in other areas were planned but cancelled due to the late spring or chemical carry-over problems.
â€śThe plot research so far shows that energy beets can produce high yields in many different soil types and conditions, outside of the traditional production areas of the Red River Valley,â€ť said Blaine Schatz, director of the North Dakota State University Carrington Research Extension Center. â€śThat includes the extremely dry conditions experienced in some areas of North Dakota in 2012. Despite below-average rainfall at many of the trial sites last summer, the root yields and sugar content results often were as good, or better, than our trials in previous years.â€ť
Along with tolerating dry soils, energy beets also can help farmers by improving soil health.
â€śGrowers can expect energy beets to contribute toward improved soil health because the tap root penetrates as deep as six feet to use nutrients, nitrogen and water that most other crops donâ€™t reach,â€ť Schatz says. â€śEnergy beets also improve internal soil drainage and are relatively tolerant to saline soils, plus they have a relatively low nitrogen requirement. Growers who add energy beets into a four-year rotation could expect another profitable income opportunity.â€ť
The energy beet project is a partnership between Green Vision Group and Heartland Renewable Energy with research by North Dakota State University. Test plots are sponsored by Betaseed and Syngenta-Hilleshog, who produce seeds for this variety of sugar beet. Additional funding is provided by the North Dakota Renewable Energy Council, the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission and many communities and private companies.
GVG President Maynard Helgaas said the project is in its final research phase, which will contribute to future commercialization efforts. Besides the trial plots, other research efforts conducted by NDSU focus on feedstock storage methods that enable year-round processing and front-end processing methods that maximize sugar yields and minimize costs.
â€śEnergy beets will benefit rural North Dakota communities, because the processing facilities we are envisioning will create many quality jobs and support local production,â€ť Helgaas said. Each plant could create 23 jobs and require 30,000 acres of energy beets for feedstock, he said.
For more information about the energy beet project, visit www.beetsallbiofuel.com.
To reach the Litchville site at the Dennis Nelson Farms, travel 2.5 miles east of the Litchville sign on ND Hwy. 46 (plot on north side of road).
Read this story in Tuesday's Times-Record.