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No-Till Beets: Different, Convenient, Rewarding

No-Till Beets: Different, Convenient, Rewarding |
Amalgamated Sugar October 14, 2019

As new technology develops in farming it typically allows many changes to take place. Roundup Ready® sugarbeets are a great example of one of these technologies that has allowed for a great many changes. One such change allowed to come about through the use of Roundup Ready® technology is that of the use of reduced or no tillage in sugarbeets. Slowly, no-till sugarbeet production has been picking up steam in many parts of the Company. This system of production opens the door to many benefits, including cost savings and improvements in soil health. Often these changes are slow to be adopted for a myriad of reasons. Some are happy with how they run things currently and some don’t believe it will work for them because of a lack of knowledge or they worry about the risk of the unknown. Whatever the reason, this article will attempt to share knowledge about no-till sugarbeets and address some concerns that may exist by sharing experiences from two growers that have experience raising no-till beets.

 


 

Brian Carlquist farms over 200 acres of sugarbeets in the Hazelton area with his father, Lynn.

 

REID: How many years have you been no-tilling sugarbeets?

BRIAN: We have been no-till farming beets for four years. The last three years, all our beets have been no-till.

 

REID: Why did you decide to try no-till beets?

BRIAN: We have always had problems with crusting and losing our soil moisture. After hearing you talk about how you were able to save moisture and have comparable yields in a no-till field, Dad (Lynn) thought that we should try a field.

 

REID: Do you think switching to no-till has saved you money?

BRIAN: Yes, compared to when we did conventional tillage,we save around $100 an acre. We would plow, roller harrow and sometimes bed in the fall. Then we would roller harrow again in the spring. At times, we would have to roller harrow the beds because the ground had gotten so hard. Then in the summer, we’d dammer dike. Now we run the flex harrow once through the straw in the fall, then we plant in the spring.

 

REID: How do you apply your fertilizer?

BRIAN: We fall apply all our phosphorous, potassium and any micros we may need. Nitrogen is all spring applied – mostly top-dressed.

 

REID: What problems have you had with no-till?

BRIAN: The biggest problem has been getting our seed trench closed. There are spots that we worry about getting good seed-to-soil contact. Voles can be a little bit of a problem at times. This year I think that I only saw one vole den.

 

REID: Has no-till farming increased any of your costs?

BRIAN: Yes, because we spend more time and money trying to control voles.

 

REID: Has your yield or quality changed with no-till?

BRIAN: Our yields have gone up. In the spring, you think your beets don’t look as good as your neighbors. Then in the fall the tons are the same or better than the neighbors. The same goes for our sugar quality.

 

Planting no till sugarbeets

Planting no-till sugarbeets


 

 

Ted Tateoka farms 317 acres of sugarbeets between Paul and Hazelton with 154 of those acres being no-till.

 

REID: How many years have you no-tilled sugarbeets?

TED: This is my second year.

 

REID: Why did you decide to try no-tilling beets?

TED: The real reason I no-till is because I wanted to increase soil organic matter. I was also looking to help establish a better stand in white dirt. I have a short rotation of beets and barley on a few of my fields. I wanted to create more of a rotation with the cover crop and no-till came along with the cover crops.

 

REID: Do you think switching to no-till has saved you any money?

TED: No, because of the cover crop seed and the fertilizer needed for the cover crop. I am not spending any more money than I would on conventional farming. The real benefit to me is improving soil health and creating more of a crop rotation. I think this will pay off more in the long run.

 

REID: How do you apply your fertilizer?

TED: Some nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium is applied before the cover crop. Then in the spring a pop-up starter with nitrogen and phosphorous is put down with the planter. The last application is a top-dressed nitrogen.

 

REID: What problems have you had with no-till?

TED: The thing that I think is the most important is timing. There is some ease with no-till such as not having to dammer dike, but timing is important. If you do not kill the cover crop at the right time it can create a problem.

 

REID: What cover crops are you planting?

TED: I plant tillage radish, turnips and peas. The first year barley was in the mix, but it created a problem of leaving too thick of a mat and we couldn’t plant into it very well. This last year, the barley was sprayed out early and planting was easier.

 


 

Raising sugarbeets in a no-till production system is a newer production method. It has unique challenges for each grower that uses the system, but just as with any new technology or method of production there are great benefits to be had in their use. In this case the greatest could come in the form of saving money on groundwork or improving and saving the health of the soil which is the foundation of every sustainable farming system.

 


 

 

Article by Reid Bowen, Senior Agriculturalist

Photos by Reid Bowen and Clarke Alder

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