About the only positive news coming out of the thirsty Red River Valley after the 2021 harvest was sugarbeets. The region — which includes parts of North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba — saw sugarbeet harvests that were 19% higher than 2020 in North Dakota and 10% higher in Minnesota. Drought, especially in North Dakota, caused nearly all other crop harvests to be down by double digits.

Jay Gudajtes of Minto, N.D., thinks growing interest in strip-till management systems could be behind the better sugarbeet harvest. 

He recent told AgWeek the ETS Soil Warrior has helped his farm counter dry conditions. The strip-till system leaves most of the soil undisturbed while planting sugarbeets into moist seedbed strips. The fertilized strips are only about 9 inches wide.

Companies, such as General Mills, also have funding available for conservation practices like strip-till, Hoppe told farmers and crops specialists during his session at the virtual 52nd annual Sugarbeet Research Reporting Sessions, organized by the Sugarbeet Research and Education Board at North Dakota State University. 

In 2021, there were six on-farm strip-till locations in Walsh and Traill counties in North Dakota and Polk County, Minn. In Walsh County, NDSU Extension Agriculture Agent Brad Brummond has worked for the past few years with several sugarbeet farmers on strip-till projects. Farmers plant the sugarbeets into a 3- to 4-inches wide strip of bare soil between strips of wheat stubble. These strip-till sugarbeets are demonstration plots, not research plots, designed so people interested in strip-till can drive by or walk the fields to learn more.

It will take more research to discern whether strip-till produces higher sugarbeet yields and whether it affects crop quality, Hoppe says, so more studies will be conducted in 2022.

Brummond believes that strip-till clearly has a positive impact on soil health and the Walsh County farmers who are implementing the system recognize that.

“My phone rang off the hook last fall (with farmers) talking about strip till,” Brummond tells Agweek. “We have a lot of guys moving toward that because it helps them with their soil health issues; it helps them with their erosion issues.”

Brummond expects strip-till sugarbeet acreage will increase to about 800 acres this spring. That amount, while small, represents an 800% increase from this year.

He credits the increased interest in strip till to the Walsh County demonstration fields, which have shown that sugarbeets can be successfully stip-tilled without sacrificing profit, he says.

Sugarbeet grower sessions are scheduled for early February across the Red River Valley. Click here to learn more.

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