ISSUE #419

419 - Open Winter, Windy and Dry Spring Present Seedbed Challenges


Weather patterns this winter and early spring may well present some significant challenges for seedbed preparation and stand establishment. Numerous fields have had serious erosion when high winds have caused blowing soil problems. Many fields have 1, 2, or even 3 inches of loose powdery soil on the surface. If these conditions persist or get worse, raising the best possible beet crop in 2002 will be a major challenge.

Optimium Plant Population Critical to Profitability:

  • Each increase of 10 beets per 100’ of row from 80 to about 190 beets per 100’ of row will increase revenue by about $35 per acre.
  • Excessive plant populations over 190 beets/100’ of row will cause a decrease in revenue of about $9 per acre for each increase of 10 beets/100’ row.
  • If poor stand establishment is experienced, be very cautious about replanting. As few as 50 or 60 beets/100’ of row planted early will out yield much higher plant populations planted later.

Planting and Seedbed Preparation Strategies:

  • Shallow spring tillage only 1-3” deep is recommended to retain soil water.
  • Effectively pack the field after tillage with rolling baskets, coil packers, grain drills or other implements.
  • Use stinger tines between rows to bring up clods and reduce wind damage.
  • Consider seeding a cover crop while packing with a grain drill to prevent soil erosion and stand loss, earlier planting gives more protection.
  • Decrease your seed spacing if emergence is expected to be lower than recent years, See Table 1.

Early Planting Value

Each week delay in planting beyond May 2 will reduce revenue per acre by about $49.

Table 1. Seeding Rate and Plant Population Establishment (22’ Rows)

 Plants per 100' of 22" row
90 360 270 216 180 155 135
80 320 240 192 160 138 120
70 280 210 168 140 120 105
60 240 180 144 120 103 90
50 200 150 120 100 86 75
40 160 120 96 80 69 60
30 120 90 72 60 52 45
  • An emerged stand of 190 to 210 beets/100’ row is ideal when losses after emergence are expected to range from 5 to 15%.
  • Avoid excessive planting depths – seedling emergence drops rapidly if seed is planted below 11/2 inches deep.
  • Consider planting only 1 1/4 inches deep in dry soil if moisture level is below 1 1/2 inches, then wait for a rain to get uniform germination.

Planter Problems

Very serious problems have been observed at planter test stand clinics when attempting to plant large size seed using the new John Deere large plates for 2002. Contact your agriculturist or Joe Giles or Norm Cattanach at NDSU for assistance with questions.

Table 2. Influence of secondary spring tillage depth on stand establishment at Casselton, ND in 1979, Joe Giles and Norm Cattanach, NDSU 

Tillage DepthStand CountRecoverable Sugar/A
InchesVariety AVariety BVariety AVariety B
1.5 215 212 5631 5772
3.0 99 68 4459 5033
5.0 115 99 4441 5302
  • Use coded variety trial vigor ratings and emergence percentages to help choose a seed spacing. Emergence varied by about 14% between varieties in 2001.
  • Consider planting into a stale seedbed (no spring tillage) if soil texture and water content allow proper seed placement and furrow closure.
  • Be sure to use preemerge Roundup in these fields soon after planting to kill all emerged weeds.
  • Plant as soon as the field is ready – don’t let a 5-acre wet spot keep you from planting the 75 acres that are ready.
  • Planter plows or trash wheels can be used to remove dry soil, clods, or excess residue from over the row so seed can be placed in moisture.
  • Emergence may be seriously reduced if heavy rains following planting wash soil over the row making “effective planting depth 2” or deeper.”

Barley Cover Crop for Erosion Control and Stand Protection:

Barley cover crops seeded a few days or just immediately before planting beets can provide substantial protection from wind and blowing soil for small seedlings. One-third to 1/2 bushel can be broadcast or plant the barley in rows perpendicular, or at an angle to the direction of beet rows. For best results plant the barley several days prior to the beets. However, the seedbed may dry excessively when planting barley several days ahead of the beets resulting in reduced beet stands.

Barley Seedling Rate, LB/A. (bu.)
Barley growth stage at control7.5 (.16 bu.)15 (.32 bu.)22.5 (.48 bu.)Mean
Broadcast Poast
2 22.05 7266 21.9 7145 22.1 7120 22.2 7177
3 22.0 7200 22.4 7438 21.5 6997 22.0 7212
4 21.2 6941 21.0 6965 20.9 6827 21.0 6911
5 20.6 6598 20.7 6882 19.0 6076 20.1 6519

Barley Cover Crop Use Suggestions:

  • Use 1/3 to 1/2 bushel seeding rates.
  • Only band spray microrates at 7” or 11” to maintain barley between rows.
  • Keep grass herbicide out of the microrate the first application or two.
  • Control barley by the 3-leaf stage to avoid competition and reduced sugar/acre.
  • Don’t cultivate out barley from between rows till beets are able to withstand high winds (4-6/leaf stage).

For more information on seedbed preparation, wind erosion and control, or using barley cover crops, contact your agriculturist or university specialists.

Numerous research reports on cover crop use and seedbed preparation are discussed in many issues of the Annual Sugarbeet Research and Extension Reports. View these publications on the Internet at, then go to links and click on “Research/Extension”and click on “Sugarbeet Research and Education Board.”

Seedbed Preparation Study

Dr. Joe Giles, Norm Cattanach and Al Cattanach conducted seedbed preparation trials in 1989 to 1991 during relatively warm to hot and generally dry conditions.


  • To compare the flexiccoil tillage system with coil packer, the Alloway seedbedder system and a multiweeder with harrow.
  • Evaluate benefits of additional seedbed packing with a grain drill.
  • Document level of seedbed soil water loss.
  • Evaluate effect of time of planting after tillage on stand establishment.


Agriculturist and grower check planting depth and furrow closure

Study Results:

  • The grain drill packing did not increase emergence if initial seedbed preparation included a packing system.
  • Packing with a grain drill increased emergence when initial tillage was done with a multiweeder.
  • Using a 1 1/4” planting depth resulted in higher emergence than using a 3/4” or 1 3/4” planting depth.
  • Planting within 1/3 hour after seedbed tillage resulted in higher seedling emergence percentages versus planting 3 or 6 hours after tillage.
  • Seedbeds lost 10 to 15% of the plant available water in the top inch of soil within 3 hours of initial tillage.
  • Seedbeds lost 25 to 35% of available water within the top 1” of soil within 72 hours after tillage.
  • Available soil water in seedbeds increased from about 5 to nearly 15% in the zone 1 to 2” deep after tillage, especially with the Alloway seedbedder and multiweeder systems.

Shareholders interested in much more detail regarding these studies can find it in the 1991 Sugarbeet Research and Extension Reports, vol. 22, pg. 233.

New Sugarbeet Guide Available

An excellent new handbook on sugarbeet production is available. The handbook is titled “Sugarbeet Production Guide” published by the University of Nebraska. The 228-page book includes 185 color photographs. Contact the University of Nebraska at 402-472-3023 to order a copy. Cost is $25.

Lifter Needed For Research

A Gemco , Farmhand or similar type used lifter with tank is needed. It can be a 2, 3, or 4-row lifter. Contact Dr. Larry Smith, NWROC, Crookston, MN at 218-281-8602