Solid stand establishment can make or break the season for sugarbeet growers.
Last season was a great year for sugarbeets across the nation, with some sugar cooperatives reporting record-breaking numbers. However, not every sugarbeet grower was smiling at the end of the year. Some growers, unable to establish a strong stand at the beginning of the season, were forced to settle for a below average crop.
Regardless of favorable or challenging weather conditions, sugarbeet crops with poor stand establishment won't significantly contribute to profitable harvest results. According to university and Syngenta experts, stand establishment is the most influential factor in determining sugarbeet harvest results.
"Plant stand establishment is everything," said Bob Harveson, sugarbeet plant pathologist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, Neb. "It's essential in sugarbeet production. If growers don't get started right, they're playing catch-up the whole year. Growers may have problems at harvest if they don't have a nice, uniform spacing and beet size. The better the stand, the better the economic return."
Steve Poindexter, sugarbeet extension specialist at Michigan State University, agrees that good stand establishment is essential for a bountiful harvest.
"Growers who aren't able to establish a good stand in their sugarbeet crop end up fighting a season-long battle that's nearly impossible to win. Stand establishment sets the foundation for yield," he said. "Starting out with a bad stand affects the crop all season. No matter what they do, growers will never overcome a thin stand. It's absolutely critical to start strong."
Poindexter also explained that sugarbeet stands not only affect yield but also sugar quality. Thin stands allow sugarbeets to overgrow, resulting in reduced sugar quality and content that affects harvesting efficiency, he said.
"Larger beets aren't better beets," he said. "An 8-pound beet has lower sugar quality than a 2-pound beet. If they have optimum plant stand then growers can maximize yields, but research has shown that thin stands greatly influence beet quality and sugar content."
Establishing a strong sugarbeet stand doesn't happen on its own-growers must scout their fields, know their field history, monitor pest pressure and properly choose and apply crop protection products.
However, the first step toward strong stand establishment begins with making the right decisions about which varieties to plant.
"One of the biggest threats to stand establishment starts right off with selecting the right variety," Poindexter said. "There is a huge difference between varieties and their ability to emerge. Some varieties are less vigorous on emergence than others."
Hilleshög brand certified sugarbeet seeds from Syngenta are drawn from a broad genetic portfolio spanning more than 100 years of proven in-field performance.
"What differentiates Hilleshög brand varieties from the competitors is our emphasis on seed quality and purity. Our seed is equipped with excellent genetic disease management packages and high quality standards," said Doug Ruppal, Syngenta sugarbeet specialist based in Michigan. "Syngenta is the global leader in Rhizoctonia tolerance in sugarbeets, and the Hilleshög brand has varieties that deliver specifically tailored disease tolerance for all sugarbeet-growing regions."
While high-quality seed is strongly recommended for sugarbeet growers, seed quality alone may not be enough to ensure solid stand establishment. Growers must properly prepare their seedbed, plant and care for their beets in order to reap a harvest worth bragging about.
According to the 2013 Sugarbeet Production Guide from the University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University, sugarbeets should be planted 1 to 1.25 inches deep. The guide also states that at harvest time, there should be 175 to 200 sugarbeets per 100 feet of row; on 22-inch rows, the guide recommends planting sugarbeets 4.5 to 5 inches apart.
While these general guidelines can be followed for most operations, each sugarbeet production region recommends different planting depths, widths and spacing. It is best to check with local extension services or co-op agronomists to determine the best depth and spacing. In addition, the recently introduced Syngenta Sugarbeet Planting Guide seed spacing calculator is an easy way to determine seed quantity recommendations for nearly any row width.
Seed contact with moist soil is also an essential criterion for good stand establishment.
"Seed-to-soil contact is critical," Poindexter said. "Sugarbeets are planted very shallow compared to other crops, so it's absolutely critical to get them placed into moisture so it can get to the seed. The upper inch of the soil can dry out rapidly. Good seed-to-soil contact allows the seed to imbibe water and take up nutrients for a strong start."
Selecting quality seed such as Hilleshög brand from Syngenta and following best planting practices will certainly help build the foundation of a solid sugarbeet crop. However, to reach full yield potential, growers should consider several other factors to help spur growth and development while protecting plants.
Protecting a young sugarbeet crop from insect and disease pathogens is crucial to the crop's survival.
While sugarbeets are hardy and durable at harvest, they have humble beginnings as weak, susceptible plants.
"Sugarbeets are very hardy in later growth stages, but they are very delicate when they're just starting out," Harveson said.
Because young sugarbeet plants are sensitive to pressures from pests and the natural elements, experts recommend seed treatments like CruiserMaxx Sugarbeets insecticide/fungicide, a combination of separately registered products, to help protect plants from early-season insects and disease pathogens while promoting root health and vigorous emergence.
"CruiserMaxx Sugarbeets combines the power of Maxim 4FS, Dynasty and Apron XL fungicides with Cruiser 5FS insecticide to provide early-season disease and insect protection from a broad range of pests, including Rhizoctonia, Pythium, sugarbeet root maggot, wireworm and root aphid," said Glenn Letendre, agronomic service representative based in Idaho. "Using a good seed treatment like CruiserMaxx Sugarbeets goes a long way in setting up the field for higher yield potential."
While CruiserMaxx Sugarbeets protects sugarbeet plants from early-season insects and diseases, Syngenta offers crop protection products to further promote stand establishment through added disease protection and weed management.
"For early-season Rhizoctonia crown rot, growers can apply Quadris fungicide when beets are just coming out of the ground," Letendre said. "Weed control is also critical to a strong stand. Sequence herbicide can be used early in the season to control weeds with two modes of action, which helps manage weed resistance. Plus, its combination of contact burndown and residual control offers extended protection on sugarbeet crops."
Protecting plants early is vital for the continued growth of sugarbeet crops. If a young crop falls victim to weeds, insects or disease pressure early on, it can mean poor results at harvest.
"Seed treatments are absolutely critical to protect that seedling and get it out of the ground," Poindexter said. "Once plants start emerging, it's crucial to monitor those plants for early-season disease pathogens and insect feeding. The plants are extremely small, and just a little bite or a nip from a cutworm or flea beetles at that vulnerable stage can be costly."
While strong plant stands can't be guaranteed, proper planting and pest management will provide growers with the best chance for success. In addition, following best practices; monitoring fields; and speaking with local extension agents, co-op agronomists and retailers can help get sugarbeets off to a solid start.
Weather will always be an unpredictable threat (or blessing) for sugarbeet growers, but Poindexter said that there are many additional factors that affect stand establishment.
Using the right crop protection products and making good management decisions are essential to establish strong sugarbeet stands that will endure the season, no matter the environmental conditions.
"We want Mother Nature to be the limiting factor in sugarbeet production," Poindexter said, "not grower management practices."