Cold, snow could push back beet planting

Published online: Mar 29, 2014
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UPPER THUMB—Given colder than normal temperatures and the amount of ice and snow still present in the region, the likelihood of a normal start to the upcoming sugarbeet growing season is declining rapidly.

According to Steven Poindexter, sugarbeet educator for the Michigan State University Extension in Saginaw, a typical start to the sugarbeet planting period is at the beginning of April.

“Anytime we get to April 1st and on, it’s fair game,” Poindexter said. “If the soil conditions are right, growers will grow.”

Poindexter said ideal soil conditions have to be dry enough to establish a good seed bed, because you can’t work the ground properly when it’s wet. Of course, losing the snow off the top of the ground and having things thaw out also need to take place.

“I think the biggest factor is going to be how soon the frost goes out, and then once the frost goes out, then soil moisture conditions can change,” Poindexter said. “As long as there is frost in the ground, your soil is not right to plant.”

Under ideal conditions, such as what Michigan sugarbeet growers experienced in 2012, planting can begin as early as mid-March. That year, growers produced a record crop, averaging 29.2 tons.

“Soil conditions were right and temperatures were 70 degrees,” Poindexter said of the 2012 planting season.

In comparison, the 2013 crop produced an average of 26 tons. Poindexter said a good share of that crop was planted in May because of the abnormally wet April.

This year, with snow still covering the ground through mid-March, a best-case scenario for planting to begin appears to be in May. For growers, that will mean another down year from the crop of 2012.

“As a rough average, every week you delay in planting, you probably reduce tonnage by a ton per week,” Poindexter said. “That extra growth period is important for sugarbeets.”

Poindexter added that the crop can usually grow no matter what time of the spring or summer they are planted, but yield will obviously be affected.

“We are not set up for an early spring by any way, shape or form,” Poindexter said. “Unless the Polar Vortex switches back around and goes back up into Siberia where it should be, I don’t expect we’re going to be doing a whole lot until the end of April or early May. But I hope I’m wrong.”

Added Poindexter: “If we have decent weather conditions, and they get started the first part of April, certainly the 28 ton crop, 29 ton crop is not out of the picture. But there’s so much that goes into that. Beets do use a lot of water, so you need adequate rainfall. We can have a beautiful start to our crop and not get enough rain for all of the month of August and all of a sudden, all that tonnage we normally put on or grow, the beets just kind of set there—they’re waiting for the rain. It’s not only what happens at the beginning of the season, it’s what happens during the season.”

Despite the potential for the planting period to be pushed back, Poindexter said improved technology used by growers allows for a little more room for error when it comes to planting.

“On the bright side of things, growers are equipped nowadays to where they can plant a lot of crop in just a few days,” Poindexter said. “The equipment is better, the equipment is bigger. Growers are set up to where in seven to 10 days, and certainly less than two weeks, given good conditions, they can have that whole crop in the ground. That’s the positive note—they can take these windows of opportunity and slam a lot of crops in the ground.”

During a typical year, an early harvest will take place in September, and most sugar beets are harvested after mid-October. During harvest, growers take in around 4 million tons, with the state producing over a billion pounds of sugar each year.