To The Rescue! Get Your Protector Attire On

Want to keep the R.R. technology? Here's what to do.

Published online: May 18, 2011 Feature Ray Hollist, Independent Crop Consulting
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We live in a world dominated by sound bites and buzz-words, the most popular being "green." There is a rush to judgment on any product that doesn't fit into the green definition. These products are seldom evaluated, tested or proven to be harmful, only believed by some to be dangerous. That ill-informed belief propels individuals and groups to blind activism in opposition to products that in many cases have been researched, evaluated and proven to be safe and beneficial not only to producers and farm workers, but to the people who are their valued customers.

Not a Villan

Genetically Modified Organisms are but one of many products that are maligned and vilified in today's "green revolution." In the sugarbeet industry, when we speak of GMO's we are generally referring to Roundup Ready beets. Herbicide tolerance is but one method of several different uses of GMO's.
For instance, some varieties of rice have been genetically modified to increase concentrations of a specific mineral in a kernel of rice. In under-developed countries, this has helped to balance the mineral nutrition to people whose primary dietary staple is rice. In traditional plant breeding systems, plants are chosen for their resistance to disease or insect pressure, their ability to withstand certain soil or environmental conditions.
Varieties are also selected for traits such as milling or processing quality. Who wouldn't love to grow sugarbeets that yielded 35-40 tons with 20 percent sugar and low EC values. These processes of selection have been occurring in cultivated agriculture for centuries. With improvements in technology and understanding of plant biology and genetics we have been able to accelerate development of desirable plant characteristics.
In order to feed an ever growing world, increasing demand will be placed on world agriculture to produce increasing quantities of food, feed and fiber to a rapidly advancing world population. With ever expanding urban sprawl, increased pressure will be placed on agricultural innovation to grow more food on fewer acres.
Roundup Ready sugarbeets are but one of many examples of technological innovations that have changed how this very important crop is grown. Significantly less chemical application, fewer tillage passes and better stands are a few of the improvements that have been observed with the transition to Roundup Ready sugarbeets. Increased yields have been observed in most fields, but sugar content seems to be a little less predictable.

Keep It Around

Roundup Ready sugarbeet seed is one of the tools that we utilize in sugar production and it is important to understand how we can keep it around and effective for a very long time. It is also important to consider all the other best management practices that are involved in producing an economically viable beet crop.
With that in mind I would like to discuss how we can incorporate Roundup Ready beets, optimum stands, proper irrigation, fertility, pest and disease management to produce a high-yielding economically-sound crop. Keep It Effective Without question, there is far more regulation and paperwork involved in farming today than ever before.
Consumers have more questions about where there food comes from, how it is produced and its overall safety. Regulation is not going to go away and will probably get more involved and complex as time goes on. It is important to be educated on the rules and regulations and take them seriously. It only takes one misapplication or misuse of a product to cause significant difficulties for the industry.
Each misstep generally leads to additional regulation and government intervention. Especially as it relates to Roundup Ready beets, we need to be familiar with the rules and follow them. If we want Roundup to maintain its effectiveness in the industry we need to use it properly. It is very important to apply Roundup at recommended rates.
Cutting rates may save a few dollars in the short term but could cost significantly more long term as Roundups' effectiveness is decreased and additional products have to be used. Also be sure that the rate you are using is consistent with the size of weeds in the field. As weeds get larger, they develop a thick waxy cuticle and it is harder to get chemical into the plant.
Also the plant is larger and it will take more chemical to cause the same effect. Additionally, some weeds can begin to produce seed when they are very small. By waiting to get the most bang for your buck, you can actually increase the weed pressure in the field.
Be sure to follow manufacturer recommendations for surfactants that can be added to improve herbicide efficacy. When any herbicide is applied, it will be more effective if the weed is healthy and actively growing. Weeds under drought stress will not absorb and metabolize the chemical as they should.
If plants are dusty, or a significant amount of dust is being generated as you spray, Roundup will be less effective as it binds to soil particles and becomes inactive. Be sure that sprayers are calibrated correctly and functioning properly before any application is made. Anytime a single pesticide is used the likelihood of resistance developing increases.
Fields should still be regularly scouted for weed pressure. If a resistance problem is beginning to develop it will only be found through regular scouting. One of the initial indicators that resistance is developing may be green weeds in an area of the field where weeds of a similar size are dead. Additionally, if only one species of weeds are surviving an herbicide application, resistance could be developing.
Generally resistance problems will not have any specific pattern in the field. If you have a concern that resistance is developing, invite qualified professionals such as university weed specialists to visit the field and test for resistance.

Optimum Stands

Another advantage of using Roundup Ready beet seed has been an improved stand because of the reduction of chemical pressure on the crop. In years past, we have started planting beets as soon as possible because we knew that we would lose a couple of weeks of growth due to chemical applications.
Now, I think it is reasonable to wait a little and plant when conditions are good and it is likely the first planted beets will survive spring frosts. Individual circumstances will dictate when you need to start, but frozen or blown out fields that have to be re-planted usually yield less than fields where the first planting survives.
Occasionally if replanted early enough, say by April 25, yields and sugars may be comparable. But the later the replant date, the more yield loss. If you are a little superstitious, you may want to leave the beet planter hooked up and sitting on the edge of the field since unhooking the planter seems to cause frost.


Each field has a proper fertility balance that balance that must be achieved in order for maximum yield and quality to occur. In some fields this balance may be easy to achieve in others more difficult and to expensive. Finding a balance between cost and productivity is possible and necessary.
Soil and petiole tests are important tools and should be used. Sampling the top two feet of soil is essential in beets especially as it relates to nitrogen levels. Disease Management In the past, we have often times taken a wait and see approach as it relates to disease management. Virtually all fields late in the season have at least some powdery mildew in them.
Generally we have thought that if there was 6 weeks or less till harvest, treatment was not necessary.
Research and personal experience indicates that application of a foliar fungicide 6-8 weeks prior to the anticipated harvest date can yield as much as 2 tons/acre and ½-1 percent sugar increase of the non-treated checks. Taking the conservative side, it is still very easy to see a cost advantage to the application.

Insect Control

Most of the insect problems we deal with are easily controlled with the products we have available to us. A good scouting program is essential to good insect management. We are seeing some of our commonly used products come under increasing scrutiny from the EPA. Temik is no longer being manufactured and with increasing pressure to restrict the use of fumigants, our options for nematode control may become increasingly limited.
Any product with a long life in the soil will face increasing pressure as their registration renewals come up. We will need to have a strong voice and a convincing argument to keep the use of these important products.


Ultimately, yield and quality come down to how many days you have a healthy crop at full canopy. Having the right plant population and then protecting them through the growing season with good irrigation management, a solid fertility program and strong weed, pest and disease control programs will result in excellent yield and quality come harvest.

Editor's note: Hollist is an independent crop consultant located in the Snake River area in southeast Idaho. He can be contacted through email at or call 208-681-0763.