North Dakota State University(NDSU) has been working on a new renewable energy source in the form of industrial sugar beets or “energy beets”.
Posted on 3/21/15
By Melissa Anderson
The industrial beets, which have a higher sugar concentration than those grown in the Red River Valley, will be used to produce fuel similar to ethanol. NDSU hopes to have at least 20,000 acres in a 20 mile radius around Langdon producing the industrial sugar beets in the future.
David Ripplinger and Ron Haugen of NDSU gave a presentation to a small gathering of local farmers and the respective industries this switch could affect.
“We are experiencing low commodity prices and beets may provide acceptable returns and agronomic benefits such as a deep root tap and reduced salinity issues” Ripplinger said.
Over the past six years NDSU has been in trials to determine if the production of industrial sugar beets could eventually be grown in North Dakota and be a successful venture for farmers.
NDSU has pegged the Langdon area as a place where the industrial beets will thrive, as trial results show this area has the highest yield potential, but it may be too much of a hard sell to get local producers to switch from the profitable and familiar crops of canola and small grains to the unfamiliar sugar beet.
For local producers, however, the growing of industrial beets could not only be profitable but also improve the overall soil health and increase yield of other rotation crops.
The industrial beets, according to Haugen, should only be grown every four years to break the disease cycle. The best time to plant the beets is after wheat and barley.
A bonus of growing beets is that the foliage which is cut off at harvest would replace nitrogen into the soil for next years crop.
Rocks, of course, are a concern for growers. Haugen explained that while excessive amounts of rocks are a issue, a few rocks mixed in with the beets being processed are not a major road block. The rocks will not impact the fermentation process that the industrial beets will undergo.
Potential growers must also plan out herbicide use two to four years aheadof planting beets as some herbicides can cause carry over damage to the beets.
The NDSU Research Center in Langdon was part of the trials and determined that the Langdon area has an ideal climate for growing the industrial sugar beets. The climate will dry the sugar into the beet with the long, cool days in the fall prior to harvest increasing the value of the crop.
The climate also would provide perfect cold storage conditions as the beets could be stored on the ground once harvested
Some major challenges facing prospective growers of the industrial beet is the labor intense harvest, the need for new equipment to harvest the beets, and the need to find a buyer for the crop.
Ripplinger and Haugen noted that with the successful beet industry in the Red River Valley the necessary equipment is close at hand.
The issue of the labor intense harvest could be addressed through the cooperation of farmers working together or the proposed plant having a custom hauling service that would pick up the harvested beets at the edge of fields.
The necessary plant would need to be built within the 20 mile radius of the majority of growers to make the venture feasible.
“Growers are critical, without growers there is no plant” Haugen stated.
Ripplinger and Haugen proposed a solution to the issue of having a buyer available for the crop that had two options. A plant could be built to receive the beets and process them into the final product, much like American Crystal Sugar.
A proposed plant to buy and process the industrial beets would cost in excess of $50 million dollars according to Ripplinger.
There is the option of a co-op where area farmers could go in on a joint venture of building the necessary processing plant. The plant would than contract the growing of the beets
The beet crop would be grown under two types of contracts, fixed price set forth for the duration of the contract or formula price that follows an agreed plan.
The last hurdle to the commercialization of the industrial beet in ND is the necessary crop insurance. The efforts to develop crop insurance for the industrial beet is still underway with the a value for the crop still needed to compute the data and create the necessary coverage.
As a whole the information provided at the presentation creates one unanswered question, are “energy beets” the future crop of Cavalier County?