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Sugar Beets

On Feb. 4 the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) authorized spring 2011 planting of Roundup Ready sugarbeets.
The decision includes mandatory interim measures for planting Roundup Ready sugarbeet crops, including the spring 2011 crop, while APHIS prepares a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Roundup Ready sugarbeets.
Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready sugarbeets to farmers during the 2008/2009 crop season, and growers responded with the fastest adoption of any biotech crop to date.
The APHIS decision began with a January 2008 lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the Center for Food Safety and other biotech opponents. The suit called the glyphosate-resistant technology into question and challenged the USDA’s deregulation of the crop. That resulted in Judge Jeffrey White ruling that USDA would have to complete an EIS for Roundup Ready sugarbeets – a study that’s yet ongoing.
On Jan. 21, 2010 the plaintiffs also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against further planting, cultivation, processing or any other use of Roundup Ready sugarbeets until the EIS is complete. On March 16, 2010 Judge White denied the request, allowing farmers to plant the crop in 2010.
The recent Feb. 4 USDA decision allows for the planting of Roundup Ready sugarbeets this spring, but under certain conditions. APHIS will provide growers with specific guidelines for growing the crop that comply with the National Environmental Policy, the Plant Protection Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
“Looking at the restrictions, I think they’re over and above what probably needs to be done – in climates like Wyoming, I don’t think some of those things are of that big of concern,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton of the “specific guidelines.”
Keith Kennedy of the Wyoming Ag Business Association says some of the conditions relate to identification, third-party inspectors and monitoring fields for three years for volunteer plants.
“There will probably also be some increased recordkeeping that growers will be expected to do, as well as control on transportation at harvest, as far as not loading trucks so the beets spill off, and restrictions on the transport of seed,” explains Kennedy.
When the EIS is complete, the USDA will then decide whether to authorize future plantings of the sugarbeets with conditions.
In separate, but related, litigation regarding Roundup Ready sugarbeet stecklings, or seedlings, Judge White had ordered their destruction on Nov. 30, 2010 – a command that received a temporary stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“One thing we’re most concerned about is the appeal on the destruction of the stecklings,” says Kennedy. “If those are destroyed, there might not be seed in 2012. I haven’t heard anything on when we can expect a decision on that from the Court of Appeals.”
“We’ve got some legal actions yet that are still hanging, and those are some issues that will ultimately have to be decided. If they come down on the side of more restrictions, that will be an economic decision that producers have to face,” says Hamilton. “I don’t see producers wanting to move back to non-Roundup Ready beets – the massive acceptance of the product indicates this is clearly a better way of going, and the costs would be substantial to go back.”
“Roundup Ready sugarbeets have changed the industry,” says Kennedy. “Western Sugar has gone from where they could hardly give away shares, to where folks can now sell them. But, the situation with Roundup Ready beets is there’s so much uncertainty from year to year, and from an ag business perspective it’s hard for guys to make a commitment and take advantage of some seasonally better prices on some of their fertilizer and other inputs they need for a beet crop.”
“The news isn’t great, but it’s better than what we knew before,” says Hamilton. “Hopefully this administration can keep making progress on the genetically modified issue, and try to keep the debate in the arena of science, and not so much in public policy issues.”
“I think APHIS is very aware that they are treading a thin line, and they want this to be something that is not subject to an injunction before the crop can be harvested,” notes Kennedy. “If I were a beet grower I wouldn’t necessarily be happy with these conditions, but I think APHIS is well aware there will be a lot of scrutiny in the Ninth Circuit over this document, and APHIS just wants people to be able to use the product and avoid a situation where, perhaps, a judge would prevent the harvest of the crop.”
Kennedy says he thinks the other Roundup Ready crops, like corn, soybeans and cotton, are breathing somewhat easier after the recent positive directions for both Roundup Ready alfalfa and sugarbeets. However, he says there is another pending APHIS decision on corn amylase, an enzyme that breaks down corn starch into sugars to make ethanol.
“In the long term health of crop agriculture, that will be more the telling story because that’s the first time that trait will be seeking deregulation,” he says. “The technology has been out for a while, and its real promise over the long term is for reduced use of water, reduced nutrient needs, and also to go even farther to lessen expense and environmental impact.
“My concern is where we can go with technology in the future, especially given how far we’ve seen China go in approving new traits for crops. My concern is that we not get so bogged down in the regulatory mess that we’re behind the eight-ball compared to other countries.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    After completing and analyzing the planting plans of 86,000 U.S. farmers in early March the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) released their 2009 Prospective Plantings report March 31.
    According to the report, the total area planted to corn and soybeans nationwide will hold steady in 2009 but the area planted to principal crops will decline by nearly 7.8 million acres, or 2.4 percent, from last year.
    NASS says growers plan to plant 85 million acres of corn, down one percent from last year and down nine percent from 2007. While lower corn prices and unstable input costs may have slowed corn planting somewhat, this is still expected to be the third-largest acreage since 1949, behind 2007 and 2008.
    Expected acreage is down from last year in many states, but producers in the 10 major corn producing states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin) collectively intend to plant 66.3 million acres, up slightly from the 66.1 million acres planted in 2008.
    Corn acreage in Wyoming is estimated at 80,000 acres in 2009, 84 percent of last year’s 95,000 acres.
    Farmers indicated their intention to plant 76 million acres to soybeans in 2009. If realized, this would be the largest planted area on record, just ahead of the 75.5 million acres planted last year. Increases of 100,000 acres or more are expected in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina and North Dakota.
    According to Reuters, speculation that U.S. farmers could plant less corn and more soybeans this spring has some analysts predicting corn prices as high as five dollars a bushel at some point during 2009. They forecast record soybean plantings as high as farmers shift away from the higher planting costs of corn.
    Analytical firm Informa Economics shocked traders mid-March with their forecast of U.S. corn seedings at only 81.4 million acres. Dan Basse, president of Chicago consultancy AgResource, forecast Chicago Board of Trade corn prices will trade in the $3.50 to $5 a bushel range this season. Analyst Bill Lapp, president of Advanced Solutions Economics, projected corn prices at $5 a bushel by year-end, Reuters reports.
    However, Reuters also quoted Jim Borel, who oversees DuPont Co’s Pioneer Hi-Bred unit, as saying U.S. corn seed sales have been ahead of the previous season for the last few months.
    National wheat acreage is expected to decline seven percent to 58.6 million acres. All wheat planted area is estimated at 58.6 million acres, down seven percent from 2008. The 2009 winter wheat planted area, at 42.9 million acres, is seven percent below last year but up two percent from the previous estimate.
    Of this total, about 30.9 million acres are hard red winter, 8.38 million acres are soft red winter, and 3.65 million acres are white winter. Area planted to other spring wheat for 2009 is expected to total 13.3 million acres, down six percent from 2008. Of this total, about 12.7 million acres are hard red spring wheat. The expected Durum planted area for 2009 is 2.45 million acres, down 10 percent from the previous year.
    In Wyoming, wheat production is expected to decline five percent from 2008, from 163,000 acres to 155,000. However, winter wheat is up three percent in Wyoming, while it’s down seven percent nationwide from 2008.
    Wyoming’s 2009 hay production is estimated at 107 percent of 2008 at 1.1 million acres, up from 1.03 million. Hay production in the U.S. in 2008 was just over 60 million acres, remaining steady this year at 6.02 million.
    Oats in Wyoming are estimated to increase to 133 percent of 2008’s crop, moving from 30,000 acres to 40,000 acres in 2009.
    Growers intend to plant an estimated 3.4 million acres of oats in 2009, up six percent from the 3.22 million acres planted in 2008. According to NASS, most of the increase in acreage is expected to be in the Great Plains states, with the largest acreage increase in Iowa, where growers intend to plant 200,000 acres, 50,000 more than last year. Acreage intentions increased or remained unchanged in all but eight of the estimating States.
    In Wyoming producers report barley production will decline from 90,000 acres in 2008 to 65,000 acres in 2009, 72 percent, while the U.S. sits at an expected 93 percent of last year. “Growers intend to plant 3.95 million acres for 2009, down seven percent from last year. If realized, this will be the third lowest barley planted acreage on record,” says NASS.
    Growers in California, Minnesota, New York, Washington and Wyoming intend to decrease their acreage by 20 percent or more. Planted acreage is expected to decline to record low levels in California, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Utah. Oregon expects to match its lowest acreage on record.
    Statistically, Wyoming remains even with 2008’s sugarbeet production. U.S. production is up six percent. “Area planted to sugarbeets for the 2009 crop year is expected to total 1.15 million acres, six percent higher than the 2008 planted acreage. Intended plantings increased from last year in all states except California, where producers intend to plant only 25,000 acres. If realized, this will establish a new record low for the fifth straight year in California,” notes NASS.
Dry beans
    Dry bean production is reported up eight percent in 2008 in Wyoming. Nationwide it’s up eight percent and acreage increases are expected in 11 of 17 dry beans states. North Dakota, the largest producing state, intended to plant 660,000 acres, unchanged from last year.
    “Although planted acres are expected to increase in California, growers are concerned about reductions in irrigation water. Dry conditions in Texas have dry bean farmers worried about an increase in failed acres,” says NASS. “In Wyoming, topsoil moisture levels were rated 64 percent adequate or better, five points above last year and 17 points above the five-year average.”
    Canola is estimated to dip to 85 percent of 2008’s production nationwide.
    NASS will publish data on actual planted area in the Acreage report, released June 30 at 8:30 a.m. EDT. All NASS reports are available online at Article compiled by Christy Hemken from the NASS Prospective Plantings report and other sources.
    Although recent precipitation means tromping through the mud, few are complaining about the benefit to the rangeland and crop conditions. However, some Platte County farmers are less thankful as they assess the toll that the pre-Memorial Day storm took on their crops.
    Starting the Thursday prior to Memorial Day, Platte County received six to eight inches of rain followed by two heavy hailstorms, according to Western Sugar Cooperative Agricultural Manager Jerry Darnell. Damage to the sugarbeet crops is still being assessed but it has been too wet to get in the fields. Many sugarbeet fields in Platte County were already replanted due to freezes and the flooding rains and hail most likely damaged the replants.
    Wheatland-area farmer Dan Melcher echoed Darnell saying it’s still too wet right now to determine definite damage but he said he checked his fields at one point and “it doesn’t look good.”
    “My best guess right now is we lost all the beets,” Melcher says. “There’s still a chance some might survive but it’s too early to tell.”
    Melcher also grows corn and barley and says those crops survived because they were in early enough stages.
    Grain crops in Slater, south of Wheatland, didn’t fare well either. Slater-area farmer Gregor Goertz unhappily confirmed news of baseball-sized hail in the area. Goertz says his preliminary looks revealed some strips getting completely wiped out.
    “The damage was fairly localized,” Goertz says. “It damaged probably 50 percent of my wheat to some extent.”
    Goertz also reported a small tornado touching down and hitting an abandoned farmstead and power poles. He estimates it was on the ground for about two miles.
    Luckily, Goertz didn’t find any harmed livestock or buildings and says he’s trying to stay optimistic.
    “We’re thankful for the rain,” he says.
    The rest of the state apparently weathered the storm better, according to Wyoming Crop Improvement Association Coordinator Mike Moore. Moore says the biggest concern in the state is delayed dry-bean planting. Bean planting is usually done by June 1, but Moore says the conditions are too wet and he guesses most producers won’t be done by then.
    Wind damage also caused some concerns with crop producers, but Moore says he hasn’t heard of any problems so far.
    “It’s hard to talk too badly about the moisture,” Moore says. “The range and the crops needed it beyond bad.”
    The most recent National Agriculture Statistics Service Wyoming Crop Progress and Condition Report states that less than three days were suitable for fieldwork during the past week and small grain and row crop seeding is behind. However the precipitation brought good news. Topsoil moisture levels were up 31 points above last week and 21 points above last year at 92 percent adequate or better. The publication also reports improved range and pasture conditions at 56 percent good or better. This is up 15 points from last week and 13 points from last year.
    Liz LeSatz is the Summer 2008 intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be e-mailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
As farmers across Wyoming begin to plant, the question of what kind of seed will yield the most profit at the end of the season is a big one.
    Looking to answer the profitability question as it relates to sugarbeets, UW graduate student in agricultural economics Brian Lee began looking at the profitability of genetically modified (GM) sugarbeets as compared to the conventionally grown crop for his thesis project.
    “This all came about because of the environmental concerns that have been brought up about GM sugarbeets recently,” says Lee.
GM beets
    “Since the introduction of GM sugarbeets, there has been a 95 percent adoption rate,” Lee explains. “USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) did an environmental impact statement to look at the effects the sugarbeets could have.”
    Lee also mentions that, in Wyoming, sugarbeets have a big impact. According to the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics 2011, 821,000 tons of sugarbeets were produced in Wyoming in 2010, with the U.S. producing almost 32 million tons. With a 2009 average market price of $53.90 per ton, the impact of sugarbeets in the state is big.
Setting it up
    “We wanted to visually compare GM and conventional sugarbeet profits,” explains Lee, “so we needed budgets and input prices.”
    Using existing sugarbeet budgets provided by University of Nebraska Extension, Lee varied sugar, fuel, Roundup and fertilizer prices for GM and conventional crops, as well as potential market risk.
    “The goal of this analysis was to see which type of sugarbeet is more profitable, and how often,” he says.
    With a distribution of prices, Lee set up a model to vary those prices with each iteration and ran the model 10,000 times, enabling him to look at the difference between GM and conventional beets.
    “From one year’s set of prices, within these budgets, the GM sugarbeet will be more profitable,” Lee comments.
    Lee shared his analysis with several professors at UW, who had several concerns, so he continued his analysis to address any questions.
    “One of the plant scientists thought herbicide prices were too low, so we looked at that, as well,” he explains. “A 10 percent reduction in herbicide cost accounted for about seven percent of the total cost of production. However, a 30 percent increase in herbicide costs showed herbicide accounting for 10 percent of production cost.”
    A similar analysis was performed looking at Roundup prices, as well, and showed the herbicide costing from two to six percent of total production cost.
Profit distribution
    “The GM sugar beet profit distribution shows average profit at about $781  per acre. The max is well above $2,000,” he explains, adding that 95 percent of the time profit will hit between $313 and $1,300 per acre when using GM sugarbeets.
    For conventional beets, Lee notes an average profit of $700 per acre, and, 95 percent of the time, profit will range between $267 and $1,200 per acre.
    “Each time I ran the numbers through the budget, I was able to capture how much more profitable the GM was from the conventional,” says Lee. “The minimum difference was $8.08 and the maximum was $213. This says that 100 percent of the time, GM sugarbeets will be more profitable than conventional.”
Things to consider
    “I recommend that, as long as glyphosate-resistant sugarbeets are around, go ahead and produce them,” says Lee. “They seem more profitable.”
    He notes, however, that data from the USDA for Roundup was limited to 10 years, and the assumption that the average boost in yield of two tons was a driver in the differences.
    “We did find that if you don’t see a yield boost from GM sugarbeets, conventional is more profitable 100 percent of the time,” he notes.
    Currently, research is being conducted in the field to validate the two-ton yield increase. Lee also mentions that input differences, as well as irrigation and soil types, differ from place to place, which could yield other results.
    “In general, GM sugarbeets will be more profitable, given market risk and price fluctuation, unless we see more government regulations,” notes Lee.
Looking farther
    Lee’s advisor, UW Extension Production Economist John Ritten, also mentions, “There is a lot of research out there, but not as much on profitability analysis. When Brian gets to the next stage, he will run whole-farm models.”
    “I’ve shown that GM sugarbeets are more profitable, but what about when other crops are available?” asks Lee. “I’m currently doing a linear programming model with corn, wheat, dry beans, initial alfalfa and established alfalfa to see what the optimal mix of crops is to maximize profit.”
    Lee presented his research at WESTI Ag Days in Worland on Feb. 8. He defended his thesis on Apr. 12 and plans to graduate from UW this May. Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

GM sugarbeets hit the market
    In 2005, USDA APHIS deregulated a genetically modified (GM) variety of sugarbeet that is tolerant to Roundup, a herbicide containing glyphosate. These sugarbeets, called Roundup Ready sugarbeets, were widely planted and accounted for 95 percent of sugarbeets planted in 2009-2010 crop year.
    The deregulation of GM sugarbeets was only considered after an environmental assessment determined they were unlikely to pose a plant pest risk, according to the organization’s website.
    However, following a lawsuit initiated by the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club and two organic seed groups in January 2008, courts mandated that the 2005 APHIS decision be vacated, and that the GM sugarbeet must be regulated once again beginning Aug. 13, 2010.
Shortly after, on Feb. 4, 2011, APHIS determined that partial de-regulation was sufficient until a full environmental impact statement (EIS) was complete. The EIS was published Oct. 11, 2011, and was open for comment until Dec. 13, 2011. The future of Roundup Ready sugarbeets remains in the balance.

Casper – Part of any discussion on weed control, the recent Wyoming Weed Management Association annual meeting was no exception when it came to discussing the use of Roundup herbicide on an ever-increasing list of glyphosate-tolerant crops. 

Wyoming Sugar’s Chuck Duncan, who has spent the last 38 years working with sugar beets, was present at the meeting to give an update on what his company found in their research with Roundup Ready sugar beets last summer in the Big Horn Basin.

“When I started many years ago, I would never have believed we’d have something like Roundup Ready sugar beets,” he said as an introduction. Last year Wyoming Sugar decided they wanted to increase their acreage in the Big Horn Basin, and that one of the ways they could do that was through the introduction of Roundup Ready sugar beets.

“We had discussions with Monsanto and the seed companies, in which we decided it might work so then we met with the Wyoming Sugar board, the Washakie Beet Growers Association the Sugar Industry Biotech Council. We were able to get everybody on board and got this thing started,” said Duncan.

“We started in the spring with watching the stands to see how they’d turn out. When we stared spraying we found some of the plants died from the spray, but in a very small amount, which was less than one percent,” he began to explain.

“Most of the time the sugar beets will jump out and grow and look wonderful and are way ahead of the weeds, but sometimes the weeds were way ahead of the sugar beets, which becomes a major problem and would be a disaster if we didn’t have Roundup,” he said.

Duncan said sprayers could run from 12 to 20 miles per hour to apply the herbicide. As part of their research, in some of the fields tarps were laid so the grower could see exactly what kind of control he was getting on the crop.

The applicators used 32 ounces of Roundup and 17 pounds of ammonium sulfate per hundred gallons of spray, which was the recommendation from Monsanto and was required in all of the applications. “The ammonium sulfate increases the control of Roundup on the weeds,” said Duncan.

In some of their side-by-side trial fields comparing conventional sugar beets to a Roundup Ready variety, Duncan said after the conventional field was sprayed and had gone through its “chemotherapy,” they were yellowed and set back, while the Roundup Ready field remained lush and full with no adverse reaction.

“But not all varieties are equal, and there’s a difference between them,” he noted. “That’s something we’re going to have to work on to find out what the disease package is and how well they’ll emerge in the spring.”

Duncan said Roundup didn’t control Canadian thistle, but did set it back. “Where the flower came out it quit growing and turned yellow but the old leaves stayed green and it took a long time for them to dry up. That was a concern for us.”

However, he said whitetop burned very heavily and was taken out 100 percent. The Roundup also controlled sunflowers and kochia “that you couldn’t have gotten out with a hoe,” according to Duncan.

The Roundup also didn’t kill volunteer Roundup Ready corn, but Duncan assured that wasn’t a problem. “We can put Select in the mix and take care of it, but this year we chose to use just Roundup in our research. Wyoming Sugar was the only one in the whole world that tried this last year and so we wanted to be sure we knew exactly what was happening on it.”

“Monsanto didn’t think we could control alfalfa, but it burned down very well and we were impressed,” said Duncan. “We learned that we can control alfalfa, if that’s a concern. We didn’t control it 100 percent, but what did escape was insignificant.”

Duncan stressed the importance of eradicating the weeds while the beets are small. “If the weeds get too tall the beets are still there, but the competition from the weeds reduces the size and growth of both the beet tops and roots.” Although Monsanto recommends an application when the beets reach three inches, Duncan said he thinks they should be sprayed when they’re one inch tall.

Obviously, some consideration needs to be given to neighboring crops while spraying Roundup. “You can spray without doing damage to an adjacent crop,” said Duncan, citing a field where they waited until the breeze was right and thus had no damage to the adjacent barley. “It was very well done.”

However, Duncan said the right breeze is key. “We had a case where the applicator sprayed when it was absolutely calm. You need a little breeze moving the herbicide from the conventional to the Roundup Ready crop because we took out a few plants even in the second row over because the Roundup was just hanging in the air.”

“Another thing we learned about Roundup Ready is that some of the plants turn yellow at harvest, but the crop was nice,” said Duncan.

“We’re looking for clean beets going into the truck headed for the piler and being put into piles so they store well,” he continued. “If those weeds are not there to block the flow of air there are considerably better storage conditions in the pile. We recognize you still have to fight mud and the neighbor who didn’t have Roundup beets, but we had a good harvest.”

“Overall, we learned this is a great tool and an exciting time for the industry, and it’s very comparable to the introduction of monogerm seed 40 years ago,” concluded Duncan.

University of Wyoming Research Scientist Andrew Kniss worked with Wyoming Sugar in their research and compiled the input costs and production after harvest. The research was conducted on 20 paired fields managed by 18 growers. “The paired fields were in similar locations and managed in the same way by the same grower,” explained Duncan.

With the cultivator or ditcher, the conventional field was driven across 1.8 times and the Roundup Ready field was only crossed .9 times. The sprayer traveled across the conventional field 2.5 times, and across the Roundup Ready field 2.2 times. The cost of conventional herbicide was $61 dollars on average, while the Roundup cost $19 on average.

“When you take into account the Roundup Ready royalty, cultivation, herbicide, application and hand labor, the cost was $177 on conventional versus $87 on the Roundup Ready in paired fields,” said Duncan.

The conventional beets produced 22.6 tons per acre, “Which we would say is reasonably good for an average of all 20 fields together,” he commented. However, the Roundup Ready beets produced 24.6 tons per acre.

The sugar content on the conventional varieties came in at 16.5, while the Roundup Ready ended up at 17.1, “Which is impressive,” he said. “Both things were better in the Roundup Ready fields on the 20 fields paired.”

“When you take the weed management savings, which were $90 per acre, and the increase payment, which was $133 per acre, the grower made $223 per acre more on average on those fields,” said Duncan. “Keep in mind there were some good and some bad, but the average turned out $223 more under Roundup Ready sugar beets.”