Farmers show curiosity at first formal “industrial beet” commercialization meets

Randy Grueneich, Barnes County Extension Service ag agent. Photographed Jan. 28, 2014, at Valley City, N.D.

Dave Ripplinger, an agricultural economist from North Dakota State University, speaks about their interest in producing “industrial beets” at a group of about 40 farmers at the Valley City, N.D., on Jan. 28. Green Vision is promoting raising beets outside of the Red River Valley for ethanol and other products, but not refined sugar.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service seems to be especially helpful to the Green Vision folks who are preparing the groundwork for “industrial beets.” It’s not an entirely new crop to the region, but it is new to growing areas outside of the Red River Valley, and the markets are not entirely set, so there is a lot of curiosity.

Randy Grueneich, the NDSU Extension Service county agent for Barnes County attended the Jan. 28 meeting in Valley City, N.D., where about 30 to 40 farmers  were asked about their interest in the enterprise – either growing beets for it, or perhaps investing in a project , on the assumption it would arrive.

Greueneich says the organization is looking for 30,000 acres of production in a 20-mile radius. There is a lot of curiosity of how sugar beets would work in rotations in out-state North Dakota, beyond traditional beet-to-refined sugar production in the Red River Valley.

“One thing they covered today is, ‘Do they work in rocks?’” Grueneich says. Farmers are also interested in how the company addresses the need for harvest-time labor. In the end, he said farmers may look for greater returns than they’d otherwise expect from corn because of “more risk and unfamiliarity” with the crop, compared to what they’re used to.

Bruce Anderson who farms west of Valley City, says he’d like to know more cost of production, what advantage it would be financially, and what it would do to his herbicide rotations. “Some of the stuff we use for beans and corn and wheat, we have to be aware of three or four years out,” Anderson says. The “Extreme” chemical, which is a combination of “Pursuit” and “Roundup” would have a 40-month restriction. “We’ve been using it the last two years because we’ve been using it on our soybeans because it’s good for keeping down dandelions on no-till.”

Anderson says he has friends that drive beet trucks for the traditional fall campaign in the Fargo, and knows how involved and intense the sugar beet campaign is.

Al Wittenberg of Valley City, N.D.,  said he’d like the opportunity to own stock, so he can either make money on the crop or the products a plant would produce. “Nobody here knows the labor-intensive requirement to do this,” he says. He’s wary of how many farmers can handle 1,000 acres of beets.

Another farmer in his 20s said he’d be interested in how the plant will determine the price of beets, and who would own the plant. He says he doesn’t know which would be better, but he’d be skeptical of the interest if an outside owner pegs beet prices off of corn. “If it’s like growing corn, you don’t have any risk diversity,” he says. “If you own the plant the pricing wouldn’t be as important. If the plant is making the money the grower will make money.”

Look for a more extensive story in Agweek, Feb. 3, or at www.agweek.com

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