SIDNEY, Mont. – In northeastern Montana, sugarbeet producers have been out in the fields nearly non stop, working to finish up spring planting.
The Rachors, who farm near Sidney, have quickly knocked down wheat and beet acres over the past couple of weeks.
“The weather has been nice for planting, although very windy and cold,” said Sarah Rachor, who farms with her dad, Mike Degn. “Rain has missed us the last two weeks, so we’ve been able to finish our wheat and most of our beets.”
While they have had good soil moisture to plant into this spring, Sarah hopes they see some rain in the forecast to help the seeds germinate and grow.
Temperatures have been in the 50s-60s during the day, but down into the 30s at night.
“The last three nights, the temperatures have actually dropped down into the 20s,” Sarah said on May 12.
The cold has kept the new seeds under the ground, and even weeds haven’t emerged in large numbers. The main weeds that come up year after year at the farm are kochia, pigweed and lambsquarter.
“Everything seems to be growing slowly because of the cold. We’ve only seen a few seedlings emerge and that is from the earliest-planted spring wheat,” she said.
Mike and Sarah have been trading off planting wheat or beets, and were able to finish seeding their spring wheat with the drill.
They plant their sugarbeets with a row crop planter, and were about halfway finished as of May 10.
“We fertilize and ridge the beet fields in the fall,” she said. “Then we’re able to go in and seed into the ridges directly in the spring. We use a ridging bar, which is just a set of small teeth that will dig a shallow trench to prep the field for spring planting.”
In the spring, depending on conditions, they plant into ridge, or will sometimes use a deridger to “bust up the soil on top and make a nice seed bed.”
Creating ridge rows and completing fertilization helps sugarbeet planting go quickly in the spring.
Sarah chooses new Crystal Seed and Beta Seed varieties to plant for sugarbeets. All the beet seeds have been approved by Crystal Sugar before planting, in order to be able to be processed at the Sidney plant.
“We’ll plant a few new varieties each year to go with the ones we’ve had good luck with in the past on our farm,” Sarah said.
One of the most devastating foliar diseases beet farmers are concerned about every year is Cercospora leaf spot.
“We had a lot of humidity last year, so it was my first experience since I was a kid with Cercospora,” she said. “Luckily we have a good team between Horizon Resources and Sidney Sugars that keep us appraised of the situation during the season and can recommend solutions to combat leaf spot.”
Sarah and Mike and most Sidney-area beet growers hired a crop sprayer to spray fungicide over their beets last year to ensure good yields.
“It turned out to be a helicopter crop sprayer and it was pretty cool to see,” Sarah said.
In the 90s, Cercospora leaf spot and other fungal diseases made growing beets, which are always grown under irrigation, riskier. Current varieties have disease resistance built in.
Sarah and Mike are finishing up seeding the last of the sugarbeets and will soon be planting soybeans.
“We’ll seed the soybeans with the grain drill, so we can put down fertilizer at the same time,” she said.
While the farm crops are slowly emerging due to colder temperatures, that hasn’t stopped the hops from developing.
Sarah’s mom, Jill, has been working in the hop yard, which is labor-intensive work, despite the fact the hops are grown on just a half acre.
“I cover cropped between rows to help keep the weeds under control, but there will still be a lot of weeding to be done between the plants all season long,” Sarah said.
Sarah said her mom was also “finishing cleaning up the hop yard.”
In addition, they have started training a few of their mature plants to wrap around the poles.
“Once our regular crops are planted, I will continue training the hops to climb up the coir, as hops need to grow tall to produce the delicate cones used to make beer,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sarah’s daughter, Megan, is looking forward to all the fun she will have at the end of school, which happens in June.
“There lots of end-of-school camps and fun projects, and Megan is also prepping for dance recitals,” Sarah said.
In addition, Megan is working with her Grandpa Mike to grow their annual garden.
“They are pretty secret about it, but I’m sure we’ll have lots of tomatoes, cucumbers, and other delicious garden goodies,” Sarah said. Last year, they grew chia seeds, which were 4-feet tall.