Sugarbeets grow tall under irrigation at Terry, Mont., on Aug. 1, 2019. Duane Peters, Sidney Sugars, said this year’s beet crop is one of the best in a long time.

SIDNEY, Mont. – Tall and dark green, with a strong root structure, the sugarbeet crop in the Yellowstone Valley is beginning to look like it will be one of the best in the last several years.

After cool weather in June, a long stretch of warm temperatures and sun in mid-July helped the beet crop catch up.

“We just had a root pull, and it was a little light in tons but we expected that because we are 10-14 days behind normal,” said Duane Peters, agronomist at Sidney Sugars Inc., in Sidney. “With the heat this week, we’ll catch up and should be okay. We’ll take another root pull in two weeks.”

Root pulls give an idea of tonnage, and Peters believes this year’s tonnage will be above average at 31.5-32 tons/acre.

Last year, the crop was 31.3 tons/acre, with the sugar at 17.97 percent.

The 2019 spring was cool and some of the seed “sat in the soil for a month,” and acres flooded from the rapid snowmelt and rise in the river.

“You guys know about the flood in March – it flooded pretty good all the way from Glendive. Acres were under water and the flood finished up here in Fairview,” Peters said to producers at field days. “So that happened. We had 31,100 acres planted and we had acres abandoned and now we’re losing a few more acres with oil lines going through and stuff. So I think we’re 30,900 acres now up there for contracted acres. Hopefully, we can deliver.”

Producers in Yellowstone Valley started planting beets April 9 this year.

“We got in a little bit later than usual, and I'd say planting went on to April 25, where we had quite a few of the beets in. But it was cool and damp, so the beets did not take off like they usually do. We had slow emergence,” he said.

But the recent hot dry weather has helped the plants grow, and most of the plant stands are coming around.

“This is the best beet stand we’ve had in four or five years - a great beet stand,” he said.

Peters and Frankie Crutcher, Eastern Ag Research Center plant pathologist, were recently out walking the fields, scouting, and checking for Cercospora leaf spot or other issues.

“We started to see Cercospora spots here in Sidney and down in Glendive with the cool weather we had before field days. Since then the sun has come out and it has faded,” Peters said. “But guys will begin spraying soon.”

Beets are aerially sprayed with fungicide, and in cool, damp years, more than one spray is usually needed.

Producers in the Valley have been scouting and planning to begin spraying.

Cercospora leaf spot is considered the most serious and destructive foliar disease of beets. The longer and more severe the Cercospora infestation, the greater the reduction in tonnage, sugar concentration and recoverable sucrose.

“When it is in the 60s at night and above 90 degrees in the day, it takes away the danger of Cercospora, and we have been warmer recently,” he said, adding the wind has been out and blowing spores away.

In 2016, Sidney Sugars had “the best crop we have ever had with 33.4 tons/acre. We will never have that again because we harvest earlier in September now,” Peters said. The pre-pile and early harvest, began in 2018, has worked the best for beet producers and the factory.

Before last year, beets would use the extra time throughout September to add on tons.

“Before, plants would have a chance to build up tonnage and get to that 33 tons,” he said.

Over the past two years, storage at the plant in Sidney has been excellent. No mold or other problems after occurred over the winters.

At field days, Chengci Chen, EARC cropping systems agronomist, showed the coded sugarbeet trial. The coded trials are used to select the best Roundup Ready sugarbeets for growers in the Yellowstone Valley.

“We appreciate Crystal and Beta Seed, and the genetics they provide in the beets each year,” Chen said.

In the fall, they take the harvest data, break the code and discover what numbers correspond with the varieties.

Data of interest to the company and growers concerning the varieties will include: tolerance to diseases, such as fusarium and Cercospora leaf spot, root yield, sugar percentage, sugar yield in pounds per acre and extractable sugar in pounds per acre.

 “We want to see what the replicated coded test trials do every year - we want to know what the sugar is, what the tons are and what they (the varieties) can do for us and our growers out here,” Peters said. “We are Sidney Sugars so we want sugar, but growers need the tons, too. If we can find a good happy medium where the growers get the tons and sugar, that will pay the bills.”

James Johnson is the agriculturist for beet producers north of Sidney.

Somer Reidel is the new agriculturist covering beet producers in the Fairview area. Reidel, who received a bachelor’s degee in ag business, comes from her former position at Rocking R Corp.

Peters is pleased with the way the crop is progressing now that it is mid-summer.

“It looks like a good crop this year, and we’re thankful to our growers for keeping the beets irrigated and in great condition. You guys have done a tremendous job,” he added.