ISSUE #447

447 The 2003 Year In Review: What We Observed and Learned


The 2003 growing season gave us some of the best "Mother Nature" has to offer and some of her greatest challenges too. Some parts of the Red River Valley were both very wet early and very, very dry late in the year (Moorhead district). Some of Pembina and Kittson Counties were dry most all year long. Growing degree days were higher than in the past two years in late June, July, August and September. Rhizomania and cercospora got an early start, but declined in severity as the summer moved into late July, August and September in most fields. Weed control was vastly improved by shareholders compared to 2001 and 2002. In spite of all the challenges American Crystal shareholders delivered above average yields at 20.1 tons per acre with the second highest ever sugar content of 18.45% and the lowest SLM ever at 1.25%. This crop is proof of what progressive shareholders and a dedicated American Crystal Sugar Company agronomy field staff can do while farming some of the best cropland in the world.

2003 Questions and Answers:

Q. How were the high yields of 2003 achieved?

A. Most important agronomic factors were 1) early planting of over 80% of the crop 2) exceptionally good plant populations on most fields 3) excellent weed control 4) and don't forget the 10-12 inches of stored soil profile water in most parts of the Valley.

Q. How was the superb crop quality realized?

A. The dry conditions in late July, August, and September allowed the 2003 crop to take advantage of "best management practices" of 1) planting top notch varieties capable of high yields and quality 2) continually improving nitrogen management 3) excellent stand establishment 4) early planting and 5) and good cercospora leafspot control in most areas.

Q. Why not plant beets following soybeans? Yields were good with this rotation.

A. Yes, yields were good with this rotation this year, BUT the grower practices record system database for 2003 showed beets following soybean yielded about 800 lbs/acre less recoverable sugar than following a small grain crop.

Q. I did everything right, but still had a below average quality crop - why?

A. This did occur especially in the Crookston and Hillsboro districts. The Crookston district and parts of Hillsboro received more July and August rainfall that could have contributed to lower quality. Later planting in the Reynolds and Hillsboro yard districts limited the growing season length and utilization of available N. Rhizomania undoubtedly was a factor reducing crop quality in the Crookston and Minnesota half of the Hillsboro district. Cercospora control in parts of the Crookston district was also unacceptable. Keep in mind even the lowest piling districts had crop quality about .75% higher than the 16.9% sugar content of 2002.

Q. What happened to all the hype about rhizomania it really wasn't important in 2003?

A. Incidence and severity of rhizomania became more difficult to assess as the 2003 growing season progressed. Grower strip trials had gains of over 3,000 lbs. of RSA with best resistant varieties at some locations. Many areas of the Red River Valley saw incidence of rhizomania increase, but yield losses were moderated with the very dry summer.

Q. Is there any need to consider rhizomania varieties for 2004?

A. Yes, in many Red River Valley areas. Improved varieties are capable of producing excellent RSA. Resistant varieties reduce innoculum buildup too.

Q. Did dry conditions stop the spread of rhizomania this year?

A. No, definitely not. Rhizomania was identified in new townships in every factory district. Ask your agriculturist if it's in your area, they will know.

Q. How did the crop canopy survive all those early harvest nights with temperatures in the low to mid 20's?

A. This may have happened for several reasons. Lack of foliar diseases due to excellent fungicide use making the leaf canopy more frost tolerant is one possibility. Reports from Europe indicate Triazole fungicides (Eminent) and strobilurin fungicides (GEM & Headline) help maintain a vigorous healthy canopy into the fall enhancing yields by up to 5% or more.

Q. How effective was pre-emerge Nortron or generic ethofumesates, Etho SC and Ethotron in 2003?

A. Timely rains fully activated these herbicides in nearly all Red River Valley counties resulting in good to excellent weed control in most fields. Lack of adequate spring rainfall in far northwestern Minnesota resulted in only fair control in some fields.

Q. Did high plant populations of 170, 180 or even 190 beets/100' of row and the dry summer reduce yields and increase harvest yield losses?

A. A quick summary of plant populations versus yield and quality data from grower practice records clearly shows yields at these plant populations were equal to or greater than yields at populations of 150-160 beets/100' of row in nearly all Red River Valley areas.

Q. Were harvest losses excessive at high plant populations in 2003?

A. Excessive harvest loss was observed in both low and high plant population fields. Proper harvester adjustment, speed of operation, uniformity of root spacing and soil lifting conditions were all equal or greater factors contributing to harvest losses than high plant populations.

Q. The new N recommendations just aren't working, isn't that why the crop "yellowed off" too early this year and yields then decreased?

A. The new N recommendations put in place for the 2002 crop were based on years of extensive research by North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota. Early yellowing can be caused by 1) temporary flooding and water logged soils 2) loss of N due to denitrification, 3) lack of available soil water where N is located in the soil profile, and 4) rhizomania. Yield and quality of the 2003 crop would seem to validate the accuracy of the recommendations in place.

Advice Available:

Talk to your agriculturist if you have concerns about some of the questions presented here. They can share what went right and wrong in each factory district.