ISSUE #487

487 - Harvest Strategies to Maximize Profit


On Farm Profit from sugarbeets is greatly improved if the crop is harvested and stored properly prior to processing. Objectives of proper harvesting include: (1) minimizing harvest losses; (2) delivering minimum tare; (3) complete removal of leaf and petiole material; (4) delivery of frost free roots to storage piles and (5) placing beets in storage at root temperatures of 55 degrees F. or less. Careful harvesting, proper beet storage, and efficient processing are complex interrelated operations.

Field Selection and Harvest Order

Prepile Harvest Strategies

  • Harvest high sugar content fields first
  • Send samples to the EGF lab to check crop quality before harvest
  • Avoid high N fields due to low sugar percent
  • Deliver entire high quality fields versus opening on headlands, ditches, or other poor areas to maximize prepile payment
  • Scalping improves quality of low sugar fields that must be harvested
  • Avoid fields with severe disease problems
  • Avoid low plant population fields
  • Avoid replanted fields for pre-pile

Full Stockpile Field Selection

  • Harvest low yield potential fields first (disease, weeds, other)
  • Harvest poorly drained fields early
  • Harvest low plant population fields early
  • Harvest tonnage type varieties last, let quality increase
  • Harvest high N fields last so quality improves
  • Harvest late planted fields last or as late as possible
  • Harvest high sugar type varieties early

High Speed Costs – Low Speed Pays

Excessive travel speed with both harvesters and defoliators result in greater harvest losses, poorer defoliation and lost revenue per ton and per acre. Slow down and increase on-farm-profit.

Table 1: Effects of Defoliator Ground Speed on Sucrose Content and Beet Payment. Larry Smith, U of MN, 1990.

Defoliator Speed (mph)Sucrose (%)SLM (%)Rec. Sucrose (lb/T)Revenue ($/T)*
2 19.66 1.62 360.7 43.48
3 19.40 1.70 353.9 42.16
4 19.12 1.81 346.0 40.65
5 18.90 1.85 340.9 39.64

* Based on American Crystal payments for 1999 crop.

Tips for Successful Defoliator Operation

  • Slow down - excessive speed is costly, operate at 2-3 mph, Table 1
  • Poorly adjusted and dull scalping knives cause increased yield loss.
  • Remove all petiole and leaf materials
  • Adjust defoliator settings for each field or variety to eliminate knocking beets out of the row.
  • Don't use all rubber flails after a frost.
  • Take time to train defoliator operators thoroughly.
  • Change flails as needed - they won't last the life of the machine
  • Hire a full time defoliator operator
  • Minimize root and crown breakage
  • Sweep soil and leaf trash away from the row with the rear flails to facilitate lifting and minimize harvest loss

Tools to Minimize Harvest Losses

American Crystal Sugar Company's "Harvest Loss Team" has put together a toolbox of useful items to aid growers to harvest the 2006 crop better than ever. Utilize those tools most likely to be of benefit in your operation. Most of these tools are available at , then click on Ag Tools and go to Ag Calculators or Harvest under Agronomy Gold Standards.

The American Crystal Harvest Toolbox Includes:

  • Sugarbeet harvester and defoliator checklists.
  • The sugarbeet harvester slide rule - available from your agriculturist.
  • The Gator - a field harvest loss evaluation tool - available from your agriculturist.
  • American Crystal Sugar Company's brochure titled "The Sugarbeet Harvest - Reap What You Sow" available from your agriculturist or on the Internet site.
  • Hands on agriculturist assistance - get in touch with your agriculturist during prepile when they have time to assist.
  • The Harvest Field Selector for prepile and stockpile
  • Harvest Loss Appraisal forms

Problems to Watch for in Your Fields

  • Cercospora leafspot buildup
  • Powdery mildew foliar disease
  • Lygus bug population increases

Plant Health Fungicide Use: American Crystal Sugar Company’s Ag Department strongly recommends all growers treat their fields with a Headline application 30 to 45 days before harvest. Make this application regardless of Cercospora level in your field.