ISSUE #322

322 - It All Begins With The Seed

4-18-1996

Crystal growers will soon start a new sugar production cycle that begins with the planting of seed and ends with the sale and delivery of refined sugar to our customers.

Each seed contains many genetic components including sugar content, purity and root yield, that creates new wealth from the soil for sugarbeet growers and their cooperative.

A fitting tribute to the importance of seed is expressed in a poem written by George Galbraith for the New York Times in 1960, and reprinted in SEEDS, the Yearbook of Agriculture, 1961.

ON A SEED

This was the goal of the leaf and the root.

For this did the blossom burn its hour.

This little grain is the ultimate fruit.

This is the awesome vessel of power.

For this is the source of the root and the bud --

World unto world remolded.

This is the seed, compact of God,

Wherein all mystery is enfolded.

Sugarbeet Seedling Emergence

When preparing the seedbed for sugarbeets this spring, consider the environment or the physical condition of the soil in which the individual seed will be placed. Sugarbeet seed is small and has certain abilities and limitations. An understanding of how growth takes place from a seed to an emerging plant may serve to illustrate the importance of good seedbed and planting techniques.

First of all, seedbed moisture must be sufficient and soil temperatures high enough to induce germination. Once germination begins, growth must continue or the seedling will die. At the time of germination, the young plant consists of the root, hypocotyl (stem), and cotyledons (seed leaves). The root emerges from the seed ball first and is the only early growth. The root continues to elongate until it is well established and anchored in the soil. Between the fourth and the sixth day after the root emerges, the hypocotyl and cotyledons pull away from the seed ball. From this point on, all growth of the stem in reaching the surface must be made from the reserve food stored in the seed. The supply of food stored in sugarbeet seed is small; therefore, the seedling must emerge within a few days after germination and start manufacturing its own food or die from starvation. The average plant will have exhausted this reserve food by the sixth day after the root breaks from the seed ball.

After the surface is reached, about two days are required for the cotyledons to become expanded and green so that it can begin manufacturing its own food. During these two days, very little, if any, growth takes place and this constitutes a very critical period in the life of the young sugarbeet seedling. The cotyledons nourish the young seedling until the true leaves appear. The first set of true leaves to appear is referred to as the two leaf stage. The next set formed is the four leaf stage, and so on. The cotyledons eventually drop off, having served their purpose in the early life of the sugarbeet.

Sugarbeet Stand Establishment

The growth development timeline described, occurs after the seed begins to germinate. The seed may lie in the soil for several weeks or just a few days before germinating depending on soil temperature and moisture conditions.

The sugarbeet seed does have definite growth limitations and the physical condition of the soil must be nearly ideal to ensure complete germination and continued growth of an acceptable stand.

Some Guidelines For Successful Stand Establishment:

Plant as early in the season as field conditions permit. (Be careful not to work fields too wet.) Take advantage of the cooler early season temperatures during spring tillage to conserve topsoil moisture. Sugarbeet seed will germinate at a minimum soil temperature of 40°F; the optimum soil temperature for germination is 50° to 55°F.

Practice shallow, minimum tillage to conserve topsoil moisture.

Prepare a firm seedbed, with additional packing, if necessary, to activate soil capillary action that enables sub moisture to move into the seed zone. This is the key to uniform seed germination and fast emergence.

Plant as soon as possible after the seedbed has been prepared. In a dry spring, moisture losses can be excessive in a matter of five or six hours after the initial seedbed preparation. This could be the determining factor in whether or not an acceptable stand is obtained in a particular field.

Plant beet seed at the proper depth -- 1 to 1½ inches. Deep planted seed may exhaust its food supply and die before reaching the surface. A heavy rain after planting could cause crusting and also wash additional soil over the seed furrow. The infant seedling may not have enough food reserve for the energy needed to get out of the ground. More beet seed dies from too deep a planting than from too shallow.

Establishing sugarbeet stands under dryland farming conditions in the Red River Valley is both an art and a science! The "art" is the grower’s seedbed preparation techniques and the "science" is the final physical condition of the soil in which the sugarbeet seed is planted. There is a direct relationship between the time and extent of germination and the physical condition of the soil.