By Richard Klein
I do not profess to be a great beet farmer. There are many farmers in Fremont County
who know more about raising beets than I do. However, I am a beet farmer, and I am willing
to take the time to write this guide. I have been raising a beet crop since 1984 when Gary
Jennings, Bob Peil and I decided to raise beets for Holly Sugar. Beets had not been raised
in the county since the mid 70s. Many farmers were still angry about Holly's pull out ten
years before. For two years we hauled our beets all the way to Worland as we had no piling
station in Fremont County. Beets have been the main focus of my operation since Coors
pulled out. Beets have earned more money than any other crop on my farm. A bad beet crop
is still better than a good barley crop. I am not saying there aren't other ways to earn a
living. I am just saying that beets are one way, and I believe a good way, to earn a
living on irrigated farms in Fremont County.
Imperial Holly Sugar Corporation would like to expand their acreage base within Fremont
County. That means there is currently an opportunity to raise a crop that has consistently
provided income rather than just cash flow. Perhaps Holly will always be looking for more
acres in Fremont County, but that would be unusual in the history of beet raising. Fremont
County is a GREAT place to raise beets. We consistently raise an extremely high quality
beet, high in sugar and low in impurities. Our ground is relatively disease free. We have
an abundance of acreage.
What we do not have in Fremont County is an abundance of sugar beet farmers. Men and
women who are knowledgeable in the art of raising this crop. What I would like to do with
this "How To" guide is impart some of the knowledge I have gleaned from other
farmers, field men, county extension agents, dealers, and my own experience. I started
raising this crop with NO experience. I had never raised a row crop. I had never
cultivated anything. What I did have was the desire to find a crop that would pay the
bills, and a belief that beets were as much a part of the history of Fremont County as
cattle and sheep, barley beans and hay. I did not set out to become a sugar beet
farmer, but it happened along the way.
Please keep in mind that the following narrative is as close to accurate as I know how
to make it. But you of course need to rely upon your own judgement. I would look upon this
guide as a starting point, not an end. I continue to learn each year. Things that worked
for me may not work for you. I offer no guarantees, only the benefit of my experience.
Understanding the payment schedule
The first thing I want to cover is the payment schedule. Beets are a contracted crop.
Payment is based on a schedule. Historically, beet producers (the farmer) receive 60% of
the sugar dollar, and the processors (Holly Sugar) 40%. Congress established this
relationship with legislation during the 1930s, to settle disputes between growers and
processors. The adversarial relationship between the grower and processor still manifests
itself during contract negotiations, but the relationship is much more of a partnership
today than it was in the past. This partnership relationship is clearer when you
understand the pay scale.
The payment schedule looks like this:
There are two scales on this chart. The scale across the top is the percent of sugar in
the sugar beets delivered by each grower. Each day a sample is taken of each grower's
delivered beets. An average sugar is established for every contract signed between Holly
and the growers. A single grower can have a contract for each field, so multiple contracts
are signed. The first scale, sugar percentage, is easy to understand. The more sugar there
is in the beet, the more money Holly can pay the grower. Quality beets are rewarded with a
The second scale, the "net selling price of sugar," is more difficult to
understand. This scale says that the payment growers receive is also based upon what Holly
Sugar actually receives for the sale of our sugar. When Holly can sell sugar for a good
price, we receive a good price for our beets. And when the national price of sugar is
down, our payments are also down. The growers speculate right along with Holly Sugar on
the crop we raise. That risk is no different than when we raise hay. We raise the crop and
hope there is a strong enough market to pay for the crop.
So as an example, if you have an 18% sugar beet crop, and the "pol deduction"
was .50%, and the net selling price of sugar was $24 a hwt, you would receive $44.74 a ton
for your beets.
The "Pol deduction" accounts for the fact that while you may be delivering an
18% beet at the time of harvest, pile loss through respiration and other causes will
lessen the amount of sugar in the beet when it enters the factory. "Pol loss" is
based upon a factory average. The longer a beet is stored in a pile, the greater the Pol
loss. Other factors that affect Pol loss is the condition of the beet at harvest, quantity
of dirt and weeds delivered with the beets, average temperature during the storage period,
and disease damage to the beet. Pol losses for the past five years were as follows:
Holly Sugar pays for 50% of the Pol, the growers the other half. Pol loss is a constant
source of contract dispute because, to a large extent, it is out of the hands of the
growers. On the other hand, growers agree that storage loss of sugar does occur, and that
Holly should not necessarily have to bear the entire risk of beet storage. Calculation of
the current Pol deduction is not perfect, but it is what has been agreed to during
contract negotiations between the Growers Association and Holly Sugar.
The timing of payment for the crop is also somewhat complicated. Payment is based upon
Holly Sugar's cost of borrowed money. If they have to pay less than 12%, our payment is as
Initial payment, November 20th 80%
2nd Payment, first Friday of April, 10%
Final Payment, no later than October 31st, 10%.
If Holly's cost of funds for payments exceeds 12%, the payments would be 75%, 15% and
The first two payments are based upon an estimate of the Net Selling Price of Sugar
(NSP). Holly does not know what they sold the crop for until it is sold, and it is
marketed during the entire year. As the year progresses, the NSP becomes firmed up and is
final by the third payment.
If you are fall plowing and applying fertilizer or chemicals in August for next year's
beet crop, you are incurring costs that you will not entirely recoup for 26 months. (You
will see 80% in 15 months, 90% in 20 months, and 100 % in 26 months.) Fortunately, most
expenses are incurred closer to payment.
Getting started means deciding to do some homework. Watching and visiting with a
neighbor who raises a beet crop is good beginning. Talking with a Holly Sugar field man is
another great starting point. Holly Sugar produces a small publication entitled
"Sugar Beet Production Guide," which contains information on raising beets.
Beets are not an easy crop to raise. But then, if they were easy, everyone would do it and
they wouldn't be worth raising. Raising beets has made me a better farmer in many
respects, and owning some of the equipment it takes to raise beets makes farming other
crops like barley or hay easier.
It takes some capital and a lot of effort to get started in the beet business.
Conversely, to raise beets with a minimum of effort, it takes a great deal of capital.
Equipment upgrade has been a continuous process on the existing beet farms in our county.
The first two years I raised beets, I owned one 90 hp tractor (JD 4040), a six row
cultivator ($1,200), a defoliator ($2,800) and a 3 row JD tank beet digger ($3,400). I
would hazard a guess that that same equipment could be purchased today for considerably
less money. I started with a 45-acre beet contract. Bob Peil helped me plant, using JD 71
planter units. During harvest I rented trucks to transport beets to the piler. The first
harvests, with only one tractor, a friend and I would defoliate 6 rows with the wheel
spacing set at 88 inches. When we had enough beets defoliated to last the day, we moved
the tires back on a 66 inch wheel spacing, hooked on the beet digger, and dug 3 rows of
beets at a time for the rest of the day. As primitive as this now seems, it worked.
Eventually I graduated to a 2nd tractor, a used JD 4240, and I was thrilled
with the additional horsepower during harvest, but more important, with not having to
change wheel spacing twice a day. One word of caution. If you are purchasing equipment
from a location that has severe disease problems, you could very well infect our entire
growing area by bringing that equipment to Fremont County. I would not purchase equipment
from Hereford, TX. Even the Platte Valley could pose a problem, as well as all of
California. Used equipment brought in from any outside area should be steam cleaned, and
every attempt made to remove all dirt and old beets.
I have now reached a level of acreage (150 - 170) that I am comfortable with. I have
equipment that suits me and appears to be efficient in my situation. Others have gone much
further, venturing into the 500 - 700 acre range. Their harvest equipment dwarfs mine. I
joke with them about how much all of their equipment cost, but they can not afford to
break down during planting, spraying or harvest. I am more comfortable with good used
equipment, and I am not quite so "tight to the wall" that I cannot afford a few
days breakdown. Once again, it is what you are comfortable with. The point I am trying to
make is that you do not have to start with top of the line new stuff. In fact, until you
have a few years experience, I think it would be a) foolish, b) gutsy, c) all of the
above, to spend a great deal of money of new equipment.
Suitable beet acreage is a judgement call. Soil that holds water well (heavy soil) has
been the soil of choice for many years. But lighter soils will also produce well if they
can be irrigated frequently. Center pivots on sand can produce astounding results. Beets
are not as tolerant to salts as barley is, but they are more tolerant than alfalfa. The Soil
Survey of Riverton Area, Wyoming (Table 2, page 41) lists Lostwells sandy clay loam,
(0 - 3 % slopes) as the best soil in our area for sugar beets, with Teapo sandy clay loam,
Five Mile sandy clay loam, Glenton sandy loam, Apron sandy loam, Ethete loam and a few
others following closely behind. This Soil Survey publication was issued in 1974. The
benefits of sprinkler irrigation or other management practices were not taken into account
at that date.
SOIL FERTILITY, FERTILIZER
Adequate soil fertility is necessary for a successful crop. Beets use nitrogen from a
four-foot soil profile. Barley only uses the top two feet. If you have been raising barley
on a farm for a long period of time, there is plenty of nitrogen in the two to four foot
profile. Beets need nitrogen to build leaves. But after leaf development, too much
nitrogen suppresses root development. Late season nitrogen discourages sugar formation.
What you want is a lot of nitrogen in the spring and early summer, but none in August and
September. The use of manure is discouraged in a beet crop because the manure keeps on
providing nitrogen to the beet crop well into the fall.
Most of Holly Sugar's focus on fertilizer management is on nitrogen. Knowing what is in
the soil before applying fertilizer is of course a good idea. Because of the relationship
between nitrogen and sugar and beet quality, Holly has spent a great deal of effort
explaining to growers that one of the cheapest management practices they can adopt is to
manage nitrogen more closely. To quote directly from their Sugar Beet Production Guide:
"Nitrogen fertility is the single most significant factor affecting beet quality, and
ideally should be adjusted to accommodate the variability in the other less manageable
factors. For example: If early planting or good stands cannot be achieved, the crop will
not be capable of utilizing as much nitrogen and thus less should be added
cropping is very critical in determining the soil residual nitrogen for the next crop. We
have soil sampled long enough in Worland to speculate that a good barley crop will deplete
the soil nitrogen down to 40 - 60 units available. Corn as presently fertilized leaves a
residual of 70 - 80 units available. Dry beans at a minimum of 20 bags leaves 80 - 125
lbs. of nitrogen available. Alfalfa in a 5-6 year rotation leaves 60 - 70 units available.
We have found that soil sampling following a good beet crop results in 50-55 units left in
the soil is all the further a well cared crop will deplete our soils' nitrogen. Nitrogen
is required in large amounts particularly early in the season to promote the rapid
development of vigorous early growth that must be sustained throughout the early and
mid-part of the growing season. Towards the latter part of the season, commencing in
August, soil nitrogen should be nearly depleted."
Most nitrogen is applied before ridging. I usually apply 120 units at ridging and then
sidedress an additional 40 to 70 units, depending upon stands and condition of the crop,
during late May or June. The Coop, IFA or Simplot provides Sidedressing units. Liquid N is
applied through the sidedressing units.
There is a certain amount of nitrogen trapped in barley stubble. That stubble does not
decompose in our dry and cold winter soils until late in the following year when we do not
want the beet plant to have any more nitrogen. It is possible to spray liquid N on barley
stubble in the fall and quickly plow it under while the soil is still warm. Soil microbes
will then decompose the stubble. Then the nitrogen should be available to the plant in the
spring and early summer when the beet plant needs it.
There are other nutrients besides nitrogen. Phosphate is the second most used element.
I usually apply at least 100 units of phosphate before ridging. Micronutrients are also
critical, and will suppress yields if deficient. There are many soil labs. I am using
Western Laboratories, Inc., in Parma, ID at the moment. (1-800-658-3858.)
Roger Hill, President of Holly Sugar, reminds growers at every opportunity that
nitrogen management is the quickest way for growers to improve their bottom line. Too much
nitrogen is expensive twice, once when you pay for it, and again when it decreases the
sugar content of your beet crop. Excess nitrates in the beets are also more difficult to
remove during processing.
FIELD WORK AND RIDGING
Fall plowing and fieldwork is highly recommended. It is possible to spring work ground,
but there is a problem with getting everything done between the time when the ground
thaws, spring moisture falls, and the irrigation water is turned on. Ideally, ground
should be plowed in the fall. Fields containing dense stands of quack grass, Canadian
thistle or field bindweed should be avoided. You can make these weeds sick during a beet
crop, but you cannot control them and they will adversely affect beet yields. Also, it is
much less expensive to control these weeds in a barley stubble field than in a beet field.
(Two quarts of Roundup on actively growing weeds before plowing is a good control measure
for most of our hard to control perennial weeds.) The other major advantage of fall worked
ground is that it has time to freeze and thaw and mellow. The soil is finer, and better
seed-soil contact is made. This is critical for germination. It is difficult to germinate
little sugar beet seeds in a soil that is a collection of large clods.
Some of the best beets in the county are grown on ground that was fall plowed, rolled
once or twice, floated, fertilized, rolled and then ridged. (I roll two or three times to
insure that the ground is solid enough to carry water down the rows while irrigating beets
up.) If a field is fall ridged all that must be done in the spring is plant and control
weeds. Also, if the ground does not have to be disturbed in the spring, the likelihood of
planting into moisture is enhanced. At least in heavy ground, fall plowing achieves most
of the benefit of fall fieldwork. Carrying the process through fitting (making fine with a
disk or roller harrow, leveling with a land plane), fertilization and fall ridging ensures
an easier spring. Fall ridging and livestock do not mix. Keep everything off the
pre-ridged ground. One winter I was pasturing 2000 ewes on beet tops in a nearby beet
field. The herder was instructed to keep the ewes out of the fall-ridged field. The ewes
got away from him only once, but that was enough to destroy a 200 foot wide swath of
ridges of beet field, right through the middle. The ground was frozen, but the tops of the
ridges were dry enough that they were pushed or trampled into the ditches.
Some springs weeds have not emerged at the time of beet planting. Other warmer years
there may be a nice flush of everything, especially wild oats, by the time the field is
ready to plant to beets. One quart of roundup on a pre-ridged field is cheap weed control,
but must of course be done before sugar beets begin to emerge.
Ridging, whether done in the fall or spring, is accomplished by throwing the soil up
into a ridge with a shovel, "Colorado ditcher," or creaser. Most ridging in our
county is done with a 6 or 12 row tool bar on 22-inch centers. A six-row ridger requires 7
shanks on an 11-foot tool bar, the 12 row 13 shanks on a 22-foot tool bar. Tractor wheel
spacing is usually done on an 88-inch center, with duals set at 132 inches. In almost all
University testing, 22-inch row spacing consistently produces higher yields than beets
raised on a 30-inch row spacing. Many beets are still raised on 30" beds because
operators do not wish to change tires and spacing between corn and beet fields. In other
growing areas, beets are also raised on 26", 24" and 20" spacing. I started
out with 15.5 tires on my first tractor, I had 16.9s on one (they were too wide), 13.6s on
another, but have switched to 14.9x46s on both my tractors now. People argue tire size
like they argue Chevy vs. Ford. They do need to be narrow enough to fit between the rows
of beets without damaging the plants during the growing season and narrow enough not to
pop beets out of the row while harvesting.
The first year I planted beets, I set my markers about 6 inches too wide. I do not know
how I made this blunder, but I did. The cultivator left those long strips of weeds for me
to look at all year long. Six rows of beets and a strip of weeds, six rows of beets and a
strip of weeds. The "guess row" is the ground between the passes of the
If your markers are set correctly and you can follow the mark, your guess row is the same
width as the rest of the rows. There are many expensive machines on the market to keep the
guess row the desired width. After talking with Wayne Wilson one afternoon about my guess
row blues, he explained he was using mirrors to help see where he was in the field. I do
not believe I ended up with his same system, but a mirror, mounted on the front of the
tractor at a 45-degree angle, helps me immensely to stay on the mark. I also added a guide
point so that I can line up the mark and the point in the mirror, and know that my tractor
is where I want it to be.
It is not clearly visible in the picture to the right, but there is a headlight that
casts a shadow across the mark. While I do not recommend it, this light makes it possible
to see the mark at night. Now you can work all day and all night too!
One other item about ridging. Plants grow equally well in a crooked row or a straight
one. But the straight one cultivates and harvests easier. When ridging, keeping a straight
row is easier if your tractor has a good differential lock and adequate front weights. I
once complained to Kenneth Westlake that I had trouble driving a straight row. He sat
back, thought for a second, and said, "I remember that problem also. One horse would
get a little lazy and you'd hit him with a switch. There'd go your straight row."
Kenneth had a real knack of putting my problems in perspective.
Eight years ago, many of the ridges were also being thrown up with a layer of pre-plant
herbicide at the same time we ridged. Nortron was the most widely used product. Nortron
worked very well when we started using it. Most of my early beets were grown with only
preplant herbicides and labor to control escapes. Either I did not have very many weeds
when I started (not likely), OR the Nortron used to work better than it appears to work
today. I have abandoned preplant herbicides (Nortron, Rowneet) in favor of post emergent
control. The makers of Nortron herbicide maintain that Nortron sets up the weeds so that
they are easier to kill with post emergent treatment. This may be true. My experience
indicates that the damage done to the beet seedlings can be more costly than the resulting
weed control with Nortron is worth. Other growing areas or farmers may have luck with this
product. I have quit using it. When I did use it, I layered it in. My tool bar was set up
with two sets of shovels. The first set threw up the soil into a ridge. Then I had a
leveling tool scrape the soil off the top of the bed. The Nortron was sprayed on the
resulting flattened surface of the bed. A second battery of shovels followed, putting the
displaced dirt back on top of the ridges and on top of the Nortron. This appeared to work
well, in that the weeds grew much better between the beds than on the beds. Nortron
changed its formulation four or five years ago. In my opinion the product has never worked
as well in Fremont County since the formulation change.
PLANTING AND PLANTERS
My April 1998 issue of Sugar, the Sugar Producer Magazine features a grower in
Mountain Home, ID. The article leads off with a quote "If you don't get the planting
right, you won't realize the yield. It's that simple." Every step along the way is
important, but planting is one of the big two. (Spraying is the second.) A large
percentage of the beets planted in Fremont County are planted with Monosim air planters.
An option on these planters is a monitor, which lets you know immediately if a planter is
not consistently dropping seed. These planters will easily plant seed at any desired
spacing. In other words, if you want to plant one field to a six-inch space between seeds,
and the next field at 5.5 inches, the adjustment is quick and easy.
The next most widely used planter is the old John Deere 71 unit planter. Unit planters
work well when driven slowly (no greater than 3 mph) across the field. I am still using JD
71 unit planters, though I will admit I would like a 12-row air planter. Every time I
price a new Monosim, I go back and rebuild my 71s. Seed spacing is adjusted with a
selection of gears and chains, which are not too difficult to change, but take a long
time. The JD 71 unit planter requires some adaptation to make it plant beet seed. In order
to space plant with a JD 71, an adapter kit must be purchased. These parts are still
readily available. New plastic planter plates are purchased for each size seed that you
plan to plant. (Lincoln Ag Products, 402-464-6367) I now insist on receiving the same size
seed from each of the three seed companies I do business with. It makes life simpler. Each
year I replace the springs and cutoffs, whether they need it or not. (I can't tell when a
spring is weak or not.)
There are also some Milton planters still at work. They are wonderful planters, but if
you wish to change seed size, you must have special brass seed wheels made. The Milton
unit is made of cast aluminum. When I used Miltons, and I had trouble with breakage of the
press wheel arms when I was in a field with large hard dirt clods. (See Fall Plowing,
above.) When I sold my Milton's in 1990, parts were still available. Seed spacing is
adjusted with the number of cells within the seed wheel, and a collection of gears.
No matter which planter you end up using or renting, it is necessary to plan ahead for
the next field operations, spraying and cultivating. If you leave guide tracks when you
are planting, subsequent operations will follow those tracks and make the job easier.
Whether you are planting six or 12 rows (or 24), you need to think in terms of guess rows,
water rows (low rows), guide rows (high rows), and wheel rows.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 (? = guess row)
? ^ W ^ G ^ W ^ G ^ W ^ G ^ W ^ G ^ W ^ G ^ W ^ ? (G = Guide, W = Water)
D T T D (T = tire, D = dual)
For a 12-row operation, the best location for guide rows is between rows 2&3,
6&7 and 10&11. Those are then only three rows that will not have water or tires
disturbing them. A sharp V ditch works best as a guide row, especially if your sprayer or
cultivator has the same shape guide wheels.
Seed selection is a major decision. Four or five major seed suppliers are constantly
offering new varieties for sale. Holly Seed - see your Holly Sugar field man, Hilleshog -
Roland Hines at IFA, Seedex and American Crystal - Dick Pattison, and Betaseed. Seeds that
do well on one soil type to not necessarily do well on the next. Because we are blessed
with a fairly disease free environment, we can raise many varieties that the Worland
factory district cannot raise. We can raise beets that have been bred for high sugar,
rather than for disease resistance. One of the varieties that we plant in the county is
Seedex's Monohikari. (It was bred in Japan for their sugar beet industry.) This variety
has absolutely NO resistance to the curly top virus. In Worland, virtually no Monohikari
plants will survive a normal year. But in much of Torrington or Wheatland, or Sidney
Montana, the variety consistently raises top tonnage and sugar. I think it was 1986 when
we first planted this seed in the county. We had our one and only curly top virus invasion
that year. The east end of the valley was heavily impacted, while the west end in the
Pavillion area was only lightly touched. It was years before Holly Sugar would permit the
Pavillion area to raise Monohikari again.
Over the years, I have relied heavily upon our Holly field man's recommendations. They
have the opportunity to see whether varieties are working or not in actual field
Coded trials (test plots where seed vendors demonstrate their new varieties) are raised
each year in the Worland area, but many of the varieties that Fremont County growers raise
would die in those trials. Because the varieties they must plant are heavily bred for
disease resistance, their varieties are usually not our best choice of seed. Each year
strip trials are planted within the county. Data from the Sidney MT trials can be used.
Our beets are hauled 90 miles from the Midvale piling station to Worland. While I
cannot afford to give up too much tonnage for sugar, I get paid more for a high sugar
beet. High tonnage - low sugar beets hurts twice: less money per ton and a higher freight
cost per lb. of sugar.
The current belief is an optimum plant stand is in the 30,000 to 40,000 plants per acre
range. Thick stands of 1 to 2 pound beets will usually out produce a thinner stand of
bigger beets. A thick stand will also have more sugar. When I started raising beets I put
a seed every 3 - 3.5 inches and paid labor to thin out every other plant. Not every seed
germinates, and it was possible to get a full stand by planting so many seeds and then
thinning the excess. However, it is expensive to pay for the seed and pay for someone to
take out the excess. Today most Fremont County beets are space planted (or
"planted-to-stand"). I do not have anyone thin the beets. I plant using a 6-inch
spacing. That puts down 47,520 seeds per acre. They do not all live until harvest.
Hopefully 30,000 to 40,000 of them do. Be sure that seed covers the seed plate within the
hoppers. Low seed equals poor stand, as the seed plates cells simply do not fill when they
are not covered.
Beet seed comes in a variety of forms. Bare seed comes in small, medium, large and
extra large. Seed is also pelleted in maxi, mini and regular pellets. I have been
purchasing what is call the regular PAT pellets. This seed has been partially germinated.
I feel that the cost of the PAT pellets is justified by the fact they emerge quicker.
Emergence is everything. Two days quicker emergence means two more days that the beet
cannot be locked in a crust in the event of heavy down pours. Two days in a 150-day
growing season doesn't sound like much, but it is.
When to plant has been a long-standing question. We all know the earlier the better,
but too early is too early. Beets freeze off and die at temperatures in the lower 20s and
teens, especially when accompanied by a breeze. I use to think I shouldn't plant beets
until after the 21st of April. Now I think they should be in the ground by the
15th, and I'm considering the 10th. I know I will freeze them off
some years, but the years that they do make it will more than pay the bills for replanting
on the years when they freeze. The longer the growing season, the more tonnage and sugar
will be harvested in October.
One other item that must be considered at planting is an insecticide. Insecticides are
an insurance policy. I believe our biggest threat is the sugar beet root maggot. This is a
fly, which lays its eggs on a young beet plant. The egg hatches and the larvae crawls down
and begins to eat the root. We probably only have a major infestation of the sugar beet
root maggot once every 10 or 15 years, but when we do it can be an expensive proposition.
COUNTER is also believed to have some control of the sugar beet leafhopper, which carries
the curly top virus. Since COUNTER introduced its "Lock and Load" system, I feel
I can use this product safely with minimum of exposure. The other major product used is
TEMIK. It is principally a nematicide, and has little if any effect on the sugar beet
leafhopper that spreads curly top. Another pest that appears some years is a small carrion
beetle that loves eating freshly emerged beet plants. COUNTER controls that threat quite
effectively. I apply COUNTER with Gandy boxes mounted on the planter. I use a 5 or 6 pound
rate per acre, which is about 1/4 the full rate. For the insects I am trying to control,
this rate has been adequate.
IRRIGATING BEETS UP
Sugar beets seldom come up from natural precipitation. It happened in 1997, but that
was the first time rainfall did the entire job in the 14 years I have been raising beets.
I use to talk with Kenneth Westlake, who raised beets on Riverview during the early 1940s.
(Kenneth passed away this winter.) Kenneth told me he never had to irrigate beets up
during the years he farmed on Riverview.
I dislike irrigating beets up. Over the years though I have learned a few tricks. I
have fields with some slope. I would have thought that would make things easier, but the
slope encourages a lot of silt running to the bottom of the field. This silt and sand
erosion creates dams at every small obstruction, runs the water out of the ditch, and in
general makes this job very difficult. I would spend hours and days trying to keep the
water where it was suppose to be. I tried surge valves and they helped to some extent.
Three years ago Dan Pince and I began experimenting with "Soil PAM," a
polyacrylamide which precipitates soil particles. This product has revolutionized
irrigating beets up. Without soil erosion ditches stay intact. Ditches do not erode into a
deeper chasm, which takes the water even further away from the seed you are trying to
germinate. The directions on the Soil PAM bag indicate that one pound of material is
sufficient for one acre. I asked, "Is that one pound of 44-inch rows (every other
row), or one pound on 22-inch rows?" I never got a satisfactory answer to the
question, and I have been using approximately one half pound of material since. Soil PAM
and applicators can be purchased from Simplot and IFA. The applicators keep getting
better. We started using this product with Gandy box applicators and 12-volt batteries.
The batteries would last about two days and need recharging. The new applicators run much
longer on a single charge. Soil PAM comes as a dry product or a liquid product. I prefer
the dry because it is cheaper, but it is more difficult to get to mix with the water. The
dry product must drop from the applicator to the water. When the wind is blowing it is
difficult to get the Soil PAM to fall where you wish it. The problem I had with the liquid
product dealt with its temperature sensitive viscosity. In the morning when it is cold the
material is very thick. I would set the flow rate and then go on to the next field. As the
morning warmed up, the viscosity would thin. Pretty soon I would have poured out an entire
jug of the stuff that should have lasted a week. Like any thing else, Soil PAM is not
without its trials. However, I am convinced it is well worth the hassle.
I usually leave the irrigation set running until the soil surface turns dark with
moisture. Some years this takes 24 hours, some years 48 hours. The goal is to get across
all of your fields as quickly as possible, but you must leave the water on the field long
enough to permit saturation of the soil around the seed.
Get the beets up as quickly as possible. It is a BIG deal. Early beets make good tons
and sugar. Late beets seldom do. You simply have to program yourself to put the beets
first during this stage of their development. Get them up. Get them sprayed.
Obviously, a center pivot sprinkler system shines when it comes to germinating beets
up. I have also used side rolls. Side roll sprinklers work, but it is difficult to only
put on an inch of water without having to live in the field for a few days, changing the
water every two or three hours. Both the pivot and side roll will crust some soils.
However, at least with the pivot you can keep the soil moist enough that the beets will
One of the obnoxious things that can happen when you are irrigating beets up is a brief
heavy downpour that compacts and seals the soil surface. I have had this happen just as
the beets were ready to break through the surface. This crust will not permit the seedling
to reach daylight, and they die within a few days. "Crust busters" are built in
Worland and are for sale. A crust buster is another item that I would like to have sitting
here, in case I need it. Old roller harrow sections, or beet rollers, are still around.
They are better than nothing during an emergency, but are too severe for my soil type. We
took four-wheelers one year and drove up and down beet rows one year. That worked, but
took forever. After planting, begin irrigation immediately. The sooner
they are up, the less exposure to the risk of a sudden down pour and resulting crust.
POST EMERGENT WEED CONTROL
There are two principle tools used in the war against weeds: Herbicides and the long
handled hoe. Weed control is mandatory for a successful and profitable beet crop. If you
forget this ingredient in the recipe, you might as well forget all of the others. For
years I have listened to comments like "I would like to raise beets again, but I just
can't handle the labor problems with thinning and hoeing." To a large extent, I agree
with that sentiment. Some of my darkest hours raising beets have come at the hands of the
labor. But then too, some of the most fun raising beets have come about because of the
families who have helped me raise this crop. When I started raising beets, labor was my
first line of defense against weed pressure. Last year I used very little labor. My
highest yielding field had NO labor. The biggest change has been the effectiveness of the
herbicides available for a beet field. IF you can apply the currently available chemicals
in a timely manner, you can probably live with the few escapes. Or, paying labor to remove
the few remaining weeds is not as expensive as trying to get them to take out the entire
Spraying commences almost immediately after the beets have germinated. First you put
out the gated pipe and saturate the ground. Then the beets come up and you immediately
pickup the gated pipe and start spraying. What's wrong with this picture? Often the ground
is too muddy to run a tractor on, especially if there has been precipitation. Ground rigs
pulled by four-wheelers (tires spread to 44 inches) have become very popular. Terry Dunn,
Hearley Dockham and I built two of them one Spring, complete with flow meters that adjust
the volume of spray as ground speed changes. These units have their place when it is too
wet to get a tractor in the field. However, my first choice is a tractor mounted spray rig
with centrifugal pump. Driving a four-wheeler up and down beet rows for days on end while
trying to stay out of the spray drift, is not my idea of fun. Sitting in a heated or air
conditioned cab, listening to the radio, is much more relaxing. Also, you can put enough
mix in the tank to actually get something done, without having to refill every hour.
I rely upon the Holly field men to make herbicide rate recommendations. Many new rates
and mixes have been developed during the past ten years. Last year we added "UP
BEET" to our arsenal. UP BEET kills kochia (Kochia scoparia), which was a weed we
really couldn't touch with the previously available herbicides.
I plan on spraying my beets four times. Three times with broadleaf herbicides, and once
with a grass herbicide. I know that sounds like a lot of spraying, but it is necessary.
Weeds do not emerge uniformly even within the same species. Last year we sprayed the first
two times for broadleaf weeds with the applications about six days apart. Spraying should
begin when you can just barely see the weeds. The smaller they are, the easier they kill.
From five to seven days later they need to be sprayed again. The third application was for
grasses. Wild oats have been a large problem for my farm over the years, as has volunteer
barley. By the fourth application for broadleaf weeds (which may occur after the first
cultivation) the beet leaves are covering some of the weeds. If the leaves are too big, we
redirect our nozzles from over the row to next to the row, trying to better aim the spray
under the leaves of the beet plant and onto the leaves of the weeds.
Spray nozzles or tips come in a wide variety. Most band spraying is done with a flat
even fanjet, a twin jet nozzle like the TJ60-4002 EVS, or a hollow cone nozzle. I prefer
the hollow cone nozzle because they seem to plug less often. You can use one nozzle per
row, or two or three. Sprayer calibration is difficult for some people because of the math
involved. The Holly field men are all experts at sprayer calibration. I can do the math,
but I was always afraid I would make a mistake. I finally built a spreadsheet on my
computer using Microsoft's Excel. Once the formulas were written and proofed, I have been
comfortable with the results. I produce a sheet for every change in recipe, thereby
keeping track of what I did in each field, each year. It is a little awkward running into
the house to get this information each time I need it, but I have made fewer errors since
I began using a computer to do the math. (Once again let me reiterate, what works for one
person may not work for another. There is no one right way. I am only attempting to
explain what works for me.) I have included a sample of the print outs from my spreadsheet
program in the appendix. In the example, I have mixed up a batch of broadleaf spray mix
that will treat 35 acres on an eight-inch band. There is $780.49 worth of chemicals in the
tank. That is enough money that you simply have to get this step correct. Too little
chemical will not kill the weeds and is a waste of time and money. Worse, too much
chemical is extra expense and will damage or kill the beets.
I have found when mixing a "recipe" of herbicides and water, it is difficult
to accurately add the water. A 300-gallon tank has little marks on the side, but at best
are accurate within 20 gallons. That is not close enough, in my mind, for the accuracy we
are trying for in a beet-spraying program. Lars Baker, head of the Fremont County Weed and
Pest District, told me to fill my spray tank with a 5-gallon container, marking the
300-gallon tank in 5-gallon increments as I filled the tank. That will work if you can
fill the tank on level ground all the time. I solved this problem by purchasing a water
meter from Fremont Plumbing in Riverton. If I want to add 37.5 gallons, I can now.
Weeds are easier to kill when they are green and growing than when they are drought
stressed. There is not much you can do about drought stressed weeds except spray early in
the morning rather than late in the afternoon. And if you have a center pivot, apply a
half an inch of moisture and spray as soon as you can get back into the field.
Bandwidth is a matter of choice. Most rigs are set up on a 7-inch band. Obviously a
5-inch band is cheaper than a 10-inch band, but cultivation is more difficult and may not
be as effective as the herbicides.
Before herbicides, cultivation use to play the largest part in weed control. Disks and
knives were used to get up close to the beet, often cutting out as little as a one to two
inch band. The labor wanted this ribbon of soil as small as possible because it made their
job easier when they thinned. Weather permitting, cultivation began when the beets were in
the two to four leaf stage. The person running the cultivator had to be a master of his
craft, and great pride was taken in how small a ribbon of undisturbed soil was left around
the beets. "Cultivator blight" occurs when the cultivator operator goes to
sleep, and the machine drifts off the row. When cultivating with a 12-row machine,
cultivators blight is fairly expensive. Today, I often leave a 5 or 6 inch band of
undisturbed soil around the beet. The herbicides have controlled the weeds within that
band, and disturbing the soil simply encourages the germination of more weeds. Cultivating
too close to the little beet plants can also cause damage if the wind comes up and dries
out the ribbon of soil. The roots are not all that deep at this stage and the plant is
healthier with a wider band.
Because so much is taking place on a farm in May and June, I am always looking for
anyone who would like to sit on a tractor at that time of year, particularly to run the
cultivator. Unfortunately, you can't put just anyone on a cultivator. Years ago my wife,
Karen, decided she could learn to cultivate beets. She has been doing it ever since. I
believe she does a better job than I do because she has more patience. When I get in a
hurry, bad things happen.
The first cultivation is often the most important one. The cultivator must kill all of
the weeds that were not sprayed. Spraying a 7-inch band on a 22-inch row still leaves 15
or 16 inches that must be cultivated. Over the years we have learned that if you don't
kill the weeds between the rows on the first pass, you will not get them in subsequent
passes either. They will be too big the next time and will slide around the cultivation
Subsequent cultivations kill additional weeds that have germinated between the rows
since the last cultivation. They also "get air to the roots." Sam Weber use to
talk to me at great length about "getting air to the roots." I know that the
beets appear to double in size every time we cultivate. Sam used a "bull tongue"
to rip a narrow trench between the rows. When I tried this, I created a deep ditch between
the rows of beets. Perhaps Sam's ground was flatter than mine. I have not tried this since
discovering Soil PAM. Anyhow, mellow soil is always better than compacted soil. If you can
loosen your soil while cultivating beets, I am sure this is beneficial.
We usually cultivate twice and then "ditch out" or re-ditch the beet fields
on the third pass. I like winged Colorado ditchers that Big R sells for this purpose. They
will leave a flat bottomed ditch, and gently place dirt under the beet leaves. Any small
weeds are smothered with this operation. I think probably more weed seed will geminate as
the result of this soil disturbance, but the beets are now getting to a stage where their
shade is a pretty good competitor for little weeds. A full canopy is good weed control.
Also, late season weeds do not threaten yields as much as early season weeds.
IRRIGATION MANAGEMENT (Adventures with water)
Get them wet. Keep them wet.
Western Sugar's Sugarbeet Production Guide says "Timely irrigation is the
key to growing an optimum sugarbeet crop." The thrust of their irrigation management
is to make sure that the beet plant has adequate moisture for growth at all stages of
development. If you are stressing the plant for moisture, you are not letting it grow to
its full potential. "Beets should never be stressed by withholding irrigation water
to 'make them root down.'" Holly Sugar's Sugar Beet Production Guide says
"Sugar beets are a high moisture use crop and moisture stress at any time during the
growing season will limit yields as the beet root is 78-80% water. Generally, short
12-hour sets close together are adequate for July water needs. Due to the extreme beet
root development in August, irrigations may become closer together to supply needed water
but left at 12 hour sets. The last two sets in August should probably be 24-hour sets.
Withholding water 2-3 weeks prior to harvest will help increase sugar percentage."
(And may make harvest easier.)
When I first started raising beets, I probably hurt our beet crop the most through poor
irrigation practices. I used the University of Wyoming's Irrigation Scheduling..the
checkbook method for Wyoming. I computed how much water the beets needed and I ran
that water past them. However, I do not think my soil takes in and holds all of that
water. I was also hung up on water rows and guide rows. You don't need a guide row after
cultivation, and I now water all of the rows. That is probably unnecessary on flatter
soils. I now irrigate at least once a week after mid July. Some soils will hold all the
moisture a beet needs with an every-14-day schedule. Mine will hold that much moisture,
but will not always absorb or take in that much water during the length of my set (12 or
24 hours). 12 hour sets every 5 or 6 days is what appears to work on my soil types. Most
years I wish I could irrigate between the first and second cultivation. Because this
involves putting pipe back out and reditching, I do not do this. There must be sufficient
water remaining after irrigating the beets up to make it until the last week of June or
first week of July. With the center pivot or siderolls, it is possible to give the beets a
drink in mid-June, if there has been no precipitation.
In 1997 I began irrigating beets up as soon as the beets were planted. I was about half
way across the fields when it began to precipitate. Five days later, when I was not yet
done irrigating, 100% of my beet seed was up and unfolding cotyledons to the sun. I knew
if I didn't keep irrigating those beets that had not been irrigated, they would have
trouble making it to the next irrigation in July. But if I kept irrigating, the weeds
would quickly be too big to kill before the soil dried out enough for the spray rig. I
shut off the water and began spraying weeds, and I still think this was the correct
choice. However, the weeds on the non-irrigated rows were much more difficult to kill
after the 2nd trip with the sprayer. They were already becoming drought
stressed. The fields I irrigated during April and May averaged two tons more per acre than
those fields that had their first irrigation in July.
PAM should be applied once again with the first water after cultivation. Cultivation
destroys the chemistry of the first application. I have not done it yet, but a third
application during the first week of August is said to be beneficial on some soils.
Scheduling the last irrigation is always fun. If you run water late and it is a wet
fall, harvesting the crop in the mud is a chore. It is also expensive in that the mud
clinging to the beet is "tare." You do not get paid for the tare but you do have
to pay to haul it to Worland. If you shut off water early and we do not receive any
precipitation toward the end of September or early October, the ground gets very hard and
digging beets is difficult. Digger wheels wear quickly. It is difficult to dig the entire
beet as the tails are often left in the ground. I have done it both ways (too wet or too
dry), and prefer dry ground to wet. Also, when the ground is dry, water leaves the beet.
Less moisture means less weight, but it also means a higher sugar percentage. We get paid
for sugar, not weight. Why haul worthless water to Worland if you do not have to? That is
my logic, but I question it because some of the best beet farmers prefer to harvest them
wet. There is a happy medium, between too wet and too dry, that actually happens once
every three or four years. (You have to remember that the probability of any event
occurring is inversely proportional to its desirability.)
Some harvests are definitely better than others are, and weather has a great deal to do
with it. Machinery breakdowns also influence how much fun you are having. For years I
harvested beets with either or both Terry Dunn and Hearley Dockham. We would pay custom
rates back and forth to keep things honest between us. There is the problem of where to
dig first. We more or less took turns being first. We would dig a half or a third of the
beets on one farm and then move on to the next farm and dig another half. If you dug
first, you knew the beets were out and you would be paid for them. But sugar usually rises
during harvest. Some years it would be better to be last. Worrying about first and last in
this situation is simply a prescription for craziness. The solution is to have faith in
your equipment, and have enough equipment to harvest all of the beets in a timely fashion.
Harvesting beets is a lot of work, but machinery does most of it. It wasn't too many
years ago when most of the harvesting of sugar beets was done by hand. A one-row slip
popped the beets from the ground. Then someone bent over, picked up a beet, cut off it's
top, and threw the top in one pile and the beet in another. Later they would shovel (with
a beet fork) the small piles of hand topped beets into wagons or trucks, and drive to the
piler, a few tons at a time. Agriculture has moved from a labor-intensive industry to a
capital-intensive industry. I will always respect those beet farmers who came before me,
but I will also respect the awesome power of the machinery we operate today.
Each digger has a unique personality. I think I could probably list 95% of the parts on
my digger from memory. You become intimately acquainted with the machine after a few
years. They are very simple machines compared to a baler or a combine, but they run in the
dirt. Bearings wear out. Shafts break. Grab rolls need rescrolling. The difference between
a new digger and a used digger is about two years. Even some of the new diggers have given
growers fits during harvest.
The harvesting of sugar beets is a three-step process. The first step
involves taking the top off the beet and "crowning" it. There are two ways to
top a beet, with a defoliator or a top saver. A defoliator usually has a series of flails
that beat off the tops.
The first flails are steel, the 2nd and 3rd drums are rubber. The
flails are followed by knife or disc scalpers that cut off the top or crown of the beet,
down to the last leaf scar. This crown material contains very little sugar. The second
method, the top saver, simply slices off the top of the beet or crown with the leaves
still attached. The tops and crowns are then piled in a row on previously dug beet ground.
A top saver must operate next to the beet digger (so there is dug ground to place the
tops). A defoliator can be used well in advance of the digger. Tops are saved to feed
livestock, particularly lambs or ewes. Tops are great feed, especially when fed with
alfalfa stubble or some other roughage. The problem I have with top savers is I have never
seen one that doesn't occasionally take about 5 inches of top, rather than 1/2 to 1 inch.
They are finicky troublesome machines. My tonnage always goes up when I switch back to a
defoliator within a field. Also, with a defoliator you can work a field with a chisel plow
or plow immediately after beet harvest. Livestock can still be run on the beet field, but
there is probably only a third or a half of the feed. Everything has tradeoffs. I went
back to using a defoliator last year and was delighted with how easy the harvest went. Top
savers often leave some of the tops on the beets. Those tops wrap and plug grab rolls. The
defoliated beets just slide through the machine much easier.
The second step in the harvest operation is the digging. Beets are dug into two basic
types of digger, the lifter-loader and the tank type machine. Lifter loaders do not have a
tank to store beets in. They will hold maybe a ton of beets. That means you must have a
truck next to the loader at all times. The tank type machine will hold three or four tons
of beets in a tank. Trucks can pull out to avoid a wet spot. Tanks can be dumped on the go
(you are digging and dumping the tank at the same time). Tanks can be loaded while the
trucks are on the road, and you are three or four tons ahead when they do return. The beet
diggers in use in Wyoming all use digger wheels to pull the beet from the ground. The
beets are pinched and lifted from the soil. Beaters knock the lifted beets back onto the
grabrolls where mud and dirt are knocked free. The beets then enter a wheel or scrub
chains, and are elevated to a cross conveyor and into a truck running next to the digger.
Lifter wheels are re-rimmed every few years, more if there have been wet harvests.
Different types of steel last longer in some soils than others. Some types of steel are
more forgiving in rocky fields than in others. Hard surfacing appears worth the money to
me. A lemon sized rock can stop a digger cold, jamming between the scrolls on the grab
rolls or caught in a chain or rink bed. Older three row type diggers use a rink bed to
knock the dirt from the beets. Newer diggers use grab rolls. I have used both and find the
grab rolls more forgiving than a rink bed in fields with rocks.
The third step in the harvest process is to get the beets from the field to the beet
dump. If you live next door to the beet dump, any truck will do. If you are further out, a
tandem axle that will haul at least 15 tons appears to be the most efficient. Diesels run
cheaper than gas until you have to fix them. Then they are definitely in the "high
rent district." Keeping good tires under a truck is probably one of the most
important words of advice. Hiring drivers who can stay sober and awake is the next item.
Beet harvest starts in July or August when I tear down all of my harvest equipment and
rebuild anything that needs rebuilding. While I am harvesting I try to keep a detailed
list of things I would like to fix before the next harvest. When the crew shows up for
work the first day, there is a certain nervousness that goes with the first day. After
that I enjoy digging beets. I enjoy the camaraderie with the crew, and I enjoy seeing the
"fruits of our labor" on its way down the road.
Each day we receive the previous days "paper work," or summary sheets.
Usually I look at the sugar percentage first. Second, I look at the tare. On dry years the
tare can be as low as 3%. On wet muddy years, I have seen tares near 10%. The tare
percentage tells you how good a job you are doing topping and digging. Tare is hauled all
the way to Worland, and we pay freight on it. Everything should be done to minimize tare.
Properly adjusted scalpers help reduce crown material. Grab rolls in good condition help.
WRECKS AND RISKS AND MULTI-PERIL CROP INSURANCE
Once a beet crop is up and going, it is hard to stop. Sugar beets are most at risk when
they are just little guys, either from freezing or wind damage. Whole fields have been
lost due to windstorms. Sand begins to blow, and the little seedlings are cut off or
burned from static electricity. I lost all of the beets under my pivot in 1996 when the
wind screamed through our farm for several hours. All that was left was the little stems.
We replanted, and the field made about 15 tons. In 1997, under the same pivot, we planted
20 lbs. of barley seed with the fertilizer and ridged it up. We had one day of bad wind,
but the barley plants appeared to hold the soil from blowing. Many beet fields were lost
that day to wind storms.
A second wreck is when weeds get established before you can kill them. It is possible
for it to rain for three or four weeks and keep the fields too muddy to operate a sprayer.
Airplanes can be called in on clear days, but the herbicide would be broadcast, and that
would be very expensive. (A 7 or 8 inch band covers about 1/3 of the ground.)
A third wreck that comes along all to often is a hailstorm. Hail sets beets back. It
usually doesn't kill them. The biggest problem with hail is that it opens up the canopy
and weeds see daylight and begin to grow again. Severe hail also interferes with nitrogen
management, in that the beet plant must re-grow new leaves. If the storm is in August,
there may not be very much nitrogen available, and the nutrients to re-grow the new leaves
comes from the root and sugar reserves.
A fourth wreck is an early freeze. Nice light frosts at harvest encourage the beet
plant to draw energy from the leaf material and store it in the root. But a freeze that
kills the leaves works in the opposite manner. The plant tries to re-grow leaves and it
draws energy in the form of sugar from the root.
There is of course little you can do about these weather-related wrecks. You can
purchase Multi-peril crop insurance. It is relatively inexpensive because beets are a
hearty crop. Since Multi-peril has been for sale, I have collected twice. Once when we had
a year where we were blasted by both windstorms and hail storms; our yields were below the
guarantee. And once in a replant situation (under the pivot as mentioned above).
Both Farmers Union (Lynn Paskett) and Farm Bureau (John Finch) carry Multi Peril Crop
Insurance (MPCI). A new grower will not have an APH (Actual Production History) for a beet
crop, but in Fremont County will be assigned an 18.5-ton starting value. If you purchase
the 75% level of MPCI, you would have locked in a 13.95 ton per acre yield at $42.00
THE POLITICS OF RAISING SUGAR
In the United States there is a Sugar Program administered by the USDA. All the sugar
program does is limit the amount of sugar imported into the United States, in an attempt
to maintain a viable sugar industry within our borders. The reason this is necessary is
because World Price sugar is a thinly traded "dump market" for European taxpayer
subsidized sugar. According to Landell Mills Commodities Studies, a Londen based research
firm, U.S. sugar is produced as cheaply as anywhere in the World.
The loudest critics of the sugar program are large industrial users of sugar like
Hershey Chocolate. The recent article in Reader's Digest is an example of their
propaganda. (Look at all of the advertisements in the magazine. They are all large sugar
users.) The sugar users group was delighted with the new Republican led Congress. They
lobbied heavily during the last Farm Bill legislation to end the sugar program.
Fortunately, those new members of Congress took the time to listen to sugarbeet and cane
producers. When the vote was over, we actually passed the Sugar Program with a stronger
margin than we had previously.
Demand for sugar within the United States continues to increase each year. Sugar is
basic food. Sugar has a bad reputation with food nutritionists because it provides very
little in the form of vitamins and minerals. It does provide energy. In my mind, sugar
makes those foods that are "nutritious" edible.
If you were late with your herbicide application, or if you didn't apply the right
herbicides, you will need labor. Whether it is economical or prudent to hire labor
(benefit exceeds the cost) is something your Holly field man can help you with. As more
and more of us figure out how to minimize or entirely do away with the need for labor, the
available pool of labor will get smaller and smaller. In a few years when we need these
people, they probably will not be available. In my 14 years of raising beets, I have had
some very nice families. Julio Casares was my favorite. His birthday was on the fourth of
July, and every year I would buy him a fat lamb or goat. His family would prepare a large
fire and barbecue the meat. Beer flowed like irrigation water, loud music played, and it
was a very festive time for all of us. Julio's family all worked very hard. They did a
good job and they earned thousands of dollars in the six weeks they stayed with us.
Julio and his family worked for us for over 10 years. Since then I have tried to
replace him, but have had little luck. The common complaint is that no one wants to work
any more. They want the money, but they do not want to do the work.
Job Service in Riverton, Worland and Cody will help you find labor. One word of
caution. Make sure your labor has a green card or social security card. Form I-9 and 1098
should be filled out for each laborer before they go to work. Industry practice is to pay
beet labor as contract labor. That means they are responsible to pay their own social
security. The labor can deduct the cost of travel, feeding their "crew," and
other expenses in the calculation of their net income from hoeing beets. To pay them as
employees, and deducting social security and Medicare on the entire amount, is probably a
disservice to them.
ROTATIONS WITH OTHER CROPS
One of the reasons I initially wanted to raise beets was I needed a crop that would
help me fight wild oats. There are several good grass herbicides that can be used in a
beet field to kill wild oats. I have been basically rotating beets and barley since I
began raising beets. I believe it would be better if I had more alfalfa in my rotations,
but that has not happened yet. It is very difficult to rotate directly from alfalfa to
beets, as the crowns interfere with cultivation.
Timing is everything in a beet crop. Usually our best fields are the ones that came up
first, were sprayed first or were cultivated first. Begin spraying two or three days
before you think you should. Then you will finish the last field in good shape. If you
wait to start spraying when the first field is ready, it will be too late when you finish
the last field. Cultivation is the same thing. Start before you think you should.
Included in the appendix is an example of my budgeting of the cash
flows associated with raising a beet crop. Your costs may be different for many items, but
you can see the process at which I arrive at the conclusion that I should keep on raising
beets. There have been years when I netted more in my beet fields than I grossed in barley
or alfalfa fields. Once information of this nature is entered on a spreadsheet, it is easy
to play "What if games." Using the data on the spreadsheet in the appendix, the
following chart was created:
INCOME (LOSS) PER ACRE
Using different tonnage and price per ton
I enjoy growing beets. I like the people I am doing business with. As a member of the
Board of Directors for the Washakie Beet Growers Association, I have come to know and
appreciate beet farmers in Fremont, Washakie, Hot Springs, Park and Big Horn counties.
Holly Sugar, in my opinion, is also made up of some extremely fine people, from the top
Raising beets is not an easy thing, but it is rewarding. Nothing good comes without
work. I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to raise this crop.