ISSUE #373

373 - Higher Plant Populations Could Boost On-Farm Profit


Shareholders may need to plant more seed per acre in 2000 to maximize on-farm profit. Sugarbeet growers around the world have been striving for that "Ideal" plant population for decades.

French sugarbeet producers get the highest recoverable sugar per acre non-irrigated yields in the world. These yields are achieved with plant populations as high as 40,000 plants per acre in 18-20 inch rows. Minnesota and North Dakota sugarbeet growers produced beets with only 80-120 beets per 100 foot of row 20 years ago. Today most growers strive for about 35,000 plants per acre (150-beets/100 foot of row). A recent summary of Grower Practice Systems records from 1994 to 1998 showed 50% of all fields had plant populations below the recommended 150 beets per 100 foot of row at harvest, Figure 1. Fields with low plant population won’t maximize on farm profit.


Figure 2 is a summary of shareholder revenue per acre and per ton versus plant population from 1994 to 1998. The data clearly indicates maximum revenue per acre is attained at higher plant populations. Shareholders with plant populations below 150 beets per 100 foot of row need to determine how to achieve higher plant populations. Remember that stand loss from emergence to the 6-leaf stage is commonly 5-10%. Stand loss from the 6-leaf stage to harvest is commonly 5 to 10% as well. Figure 2 indicates revenue per ton and per acre still increases above populations of 150 beets per 100 foot of row. Shareholders must be aware of the challenges of properly defoliating and harvesting smaller beets from higher plant populations. If your plant populations have been too low visit with your agriculturist about strategies to increase plant populations per acre. Shareholders considering plant populations over 160 beets/100’ of row should carefully consider potential risks.


Another challenge to American Crystal is storage losses that may increase with smaller beets in piles. Recent storage initiatives should help to minimize increased storage losses.

Potential Advantages of High Plant Populations

  1. Greater yield
  2. Greater quality
  3. Higher revenue per acre/per ton
  4. Better weed competition

Potential Disadvantages of High Plant Populations:

  1. Smaller beets
  2. Harvesting difficulty
  3. Defoliation challenges
  4. Possible increased storage losses with smaller beets

A study by Alberta Sugar Company in 1998 documented the effects of leaving about 4" of petioles on the crown of beets when analyzed in the quality lab.

Results of This Study Concluded:

  • Loss in payment as a result of increased tare from petiole was 3.74%.
  • Loss in payment as a result of reduced quality from petiole material in the brei was 1.56%.
  • Total loss in payment due to petioles on beets was 5.30%.
  • Pile regrowth and storage losses would also increase.

Crop Management to Minimize Potential Disadvantages of Higher Plant Population Are:

  • Improved uniformity of plant spacing
  • Using planter test stands
  • Using pelleted seed
  • Slower planter operation
  • Using precision planters

Improved Harvesting and Defoliation By:

  • Slowing down harvesters and defoliators
  • Using scalpers as necessary
  • Using flail shredders ahead of defoliators

Company Practices In Place to Reduce Storage Losses Include:

  • Buildings – 8% of the crop
  • Outside ventilated piles – 25% of the crop
  • 20’ pile initiative – 32% of the crop

Growers interested in the use of higher plant populations in 2000 need to weigh the possible advantages of high plant populations against the risk of lower quality, and loss of payment if fields can’t be properly harvested. Seed orders will need to be adjusted and a closer seed spacing used at planting.