Farm fields landscape

Studies Show Energy Beets Can Be Grown in Non-Traditional Sugarbeet Areas

Sue Roesler
Minesota Farm Guide, Sepember 23, 2012

Energy beets are growing hardy for the second year in a row in crop fields south of Minot's NDSU Northern Research Extension Center near Minot, N.D.

They will soon be harvested and the tonnage analyzed, but energy beets have been proven to produce double the ethanol per acre than corn, according to Craig Talley, Betaseed technology manager. Former research has shown yields from 28 tons per acre on dryland acres to 41 tons per acre on irrigated acres, he added.

A part of the BeetsAll Biofuel project, these beets are being grown at several areas in North Dakota this summer. The 14 test plots in 11 locations included Carrington, Hannaford/Dazey, Oakes, Turtle Lake, Williston, Langdon, Colgate, Litchville, Jamestown, Harvey, as well as Minot. These plots are sponsored by Betaseed and Syngenta-Hilleshog.

BeetsAll Biofuel is a partnership between the Green Vision Group (GVG) of Fargo, N.D., and Heartland Renewable Energy (HRE) Muscatine Iowa, with research from plot trials across the state by North Dakota State University (NDSU).

The plot at Minot was one of several across the state this year to show energy beets can be grown virtually anywhere in the Upper Midwest.

"We're finding these energy beets can be grown in many areas outside the traditional sugarbeet growing areas. While we are focusing our trials in North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota farmers will also be able to grow these energy beets," said Talley. "Our research is showing that energy beets can be grown successfully outside of the Red River Valley in a variety of soil types and conditions."

He said they are working hard to produce good data for farmers to be able to find growers for the energy beets. Important management considerations for farmers are establishing a multi-peril crop insurance program for energy beets and identify best management practices, both of which will result from the research trials, Talley added.

David Ripplinger, NDSU research assistant in applied economics, said by raising energy beets, growers could realize greater farm income as well as soil and crop rotation benefits.

Ripplinger said an economic impact analysis showed there could be a $50 million impact from energy beet production with the 12 ethanol plants planned that would go directly back to the farmer.

"The net return per acre from energy beets has been shown in an NDSU study to be higher than most other crops in the rotation including corn, soybeans, durum and spring wheat," he said.

Energy beets will benefit rural North Dakota communities because each of the processing plants will create many jobs and support local production.

For growers, soil benefits will be significant, Talley said. The roots go down 6-8 feet, breaking up compaction, and energy beets also have been shown to help with salinity issues.

"Farmers who raise energy beets may see greater soil health because the tap root penetrates as deep as 6-8 feet, using nutrients, nitrogen and water that other crops don't reach," Talley said. "Growers who add energy beets into a three year rotation could expect a profitable income."

Talley said Betaseed was told USDA-APHIS deregulated the Roundup Ready beets, which are genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.

Ron Holth of Green Vision Group, said they are in phase two of research.

"We have found it is cheaper and more efficient to use energy beets for ethanol than other crops," Holth said.

Holth said they want to establish 12 sustainable ethanol facilities across North Dakota that will each produce 20 million gallons of ethanol per year but they have not decided on the exact locations yet. Each plant will use energy beets grown within a 20-mile radius and support job creation in rural communities. They want several small plants so farmers would not have to transport their beets a long distance which would cut into economic benefits.

"Using energy beets to make ethanol is a simple and direct process since the feedstock is already in sugar form," Holth said.

He said securing EPA approval of energy beets as an advanced biofuel will mean a significant premium for producers and processors in the sugar-based ethanol market, and he expects that to happen soon.

Construction on the first plant may begin in late 2013 or early 2014, with a startup date planned for late 2014, he said.