Big Hurdles For Industrial Beets

Inside Dakota Ag

Industrial beets might be a great crop, but EPA wants to cut the renewable fuel standard and the food-versus-fuel debate hasn't gone away.

Published on: February 10, 2014

What the heck are the industrial beet guys smoking?

They’re proposing farmers grow beets as a feedstock for ethanol at a time when the EPA is proposing to cut the amount of renewable fuel sold in the U.S., and when the ethanol industry is still reeling from the food-versus-fuel debate.

It makes no sense to me to try to produce more ethanol if the Renewable Fuel Standard is cut. New beet ethanol plants would have to compete with existing corn ethanol refineries.

Also, ethanol’s critics would have plenty of additional ammunition if we took more land out of production to produce ethanol

But industrial beet backers have an argument.

An acre of beets will produce twice as much ethanol as an acre of corn, says Dave Ripplinger, North Dakota State University’ bioenergy/bioproduct economist.

That might take away the food-versus-fuel question off the table. If beets replaced corn as an ethanol feedstuff, it would actually decrease the acres nationally available for food production.

Beets could also be used to make industrial products, such as bioplastics.

Green Vision Group; Heartland Renewable Energy of Muscatine, Iowa; and NDSU met with about 200 farmers at four different sites in eastern North Dakota in January and February to talk about the crop.

“What about rocks?” was the No. 1 question farmers had about growing beets outside of the Red River Valley, Ripplinger says.

There is commercial equipment that makes it possible to grow and harvest beets in fields that contain rocks. In the industrial beet plants, hammer mills -- not delicate slicing knives -- would be used to process the beets.

Could industrial beets be more profitable than canola in northern North Dakota and corn/soybeans in southern North Dakota?

Maybe, says Ripplinger. They'd be a great crop for the Northern Plains because an early frost doesn't kill them. They just keep growing.

The industrial beet backers are planning a series of meetings in March to talk about the economics of growing industrial beets in more detail.

Stayed tuned.