ISSUE #329

329 - Site-Specific Nitrogen Management = Increased Dollar Returns


Few crops financially reward precision nitrogen management more than sugarbeets.The quality payment system provides the financial incentive to implement precision nitrogen management to increase sugar production and dollar returns from your sugarbeet crop. Each 1% increase in sugar content increases the beet payment approximately $4.58 per ton. A 1% increase in sugar content is worth about 2.4 tons per acre; in other words if your sugar content was 1% below the Company average you would need about 2.4 tons per acre more than the Company average to achieve the same gross dollar returns. Growers who have implemented site-specific nitrogen management report increased yield and sugar content in most fields.

Research trials comparing site-specific N (grid soil testing and variable rate N application) to conventional soil testing and single rate N application, have been conducted by the U of MN, Crookston and NDSU. A summary of the results shown in the table show a significant advantage of site-specific or variable rate technology (VRT) over conventional methods. Also shown in the table are records from the Company’s Grower Practices System comparing the "ideal N" fields to the Company average. The conclusion from these studies is that site-specific nitrogen management can increase production of recoverable sugar and increase net returns by approximately $50 per acre over conventional methods.

Yield and Quality Results

VRT Advantage over Conventional

 Tons/Acre> % Sugar% SLMGross ReturnNet Return * Per Acre
Per TonPer Acre
U of M 1994 1.21 .33 (.11) $2.06 $96 $72
U of M 1995 .94 .40 (.04) $1.61 $74 $48
NDSU 1995 1.22 .10 (.37) $1.70 $74 $51
American Crystal 1995 .40 .53 (.16) $3.10 $75 $52

*Gross return less Grid soil testing and VRT costs

Economic Opportunity

One of the largest and most easily achieved economic opportunities in sugarbeet production exists in precision nitrogen management to increase sugar production and dollar returns per acre.

Nitrogen variability exists in most Red River Valley soils and will continue to exist every year. Results of soil test summaries from Agvise, Centrol and NDSU, indicate that approximately 70 percent of fields tested have a wide variability in soil nitrogen levels and would respond favorably to variable rate technology. Potential increase in sugar production and grower net return per acre based on 70% of 440,000 contracted acres = 308,000 acres @$50 = $15.4 million annually.

Site-specific nitrogen management is increasing in the Red River Valley and is up from just a few hundred acres in 1993 to about 140,000 acres in 1996. We commend those growers who have taken the initiative in increasing sugar production and revenues by implementing grid soil testing and variable rate technology. They serve as a good example on what can be done between the "seed bag and the wet hopper" to increase crop production and dollar returns. There’s another 168,000 acres or so, that could benefit economically from site-specific nitrogen management. The infrastructure is in place to provide VRT to every sugarbeet grower in the Valley.

This involves:

  • Fertilizer dealers including Agsco, Cenex, Harvest States, Northern Grain, Simplot, Terra, and a number local cooperatives have invested in variable rate technology (VRT). This includes AG Chem Soilection machines @$250,000 plus the required computer and GPS technology. At present there are about 19 VRT machines in the Red River Valley.

  • Crop consultants including Centrol and a number of independents have invested in additional soil sampling machines, GPS and computer mapping technology.

  • Soil testing laboratories such as Agvise have expanded their facilities to handle the increased volume of soil testing.

If your sugarbeet operation has reached a production plateau, site-specific nitrogen management may offer the opportunity to break the yield and quality barrier. Few crops financially reward precision nitrogen management more than sugarbeets.