When I walked into the International Sugarbeet Show in Fargo the other day, I said to the first farmer I met, “so how’s the beet business?
“Great,” he replied, “and it’d be better if we plant get Roundup Ready beets.”
Sugar prices are high for a change and sugarbeet yields last year were high, too. Some fields produced 35-40 tons per acre. Now, the goal is to get every field to produce that much.
The lawsuits over Roundup Ready sugarbeets put a cloud over the good times, though. Plaintiffs are trying to prevent Roundup Ready beet seed from being planted until USDA completes a multi-million assessment of the impact the genetically modified crop might have the environment and organic producers. USDA convinced a judge to let biotech beets be planted while the 2-year study is being conducted, provided growers follow a lot of restrictions to prevent cross pollination.(I don’t think there are any commercial crops that could cross pollinate with beets within 1,000 miles of the Red River Valley, and the beets grown in the Valley don’t produce seed.)
The sugar cooperatives have not yet announced whether they be will letting shareholders plant the biotech beets this year. The big worry is that something might happen in court and a judge will order them destroyed. Stranger things have happened in this case.
Apparently there is enough conventional seed to plant the Valley’s crop. But the herbicide toolbox will be short a couple necessary conventional weed killers.
“If we have to use conventional seed, the beets will be dirty,” another farmer told me.
And that means setting new yield records this year will likely be out of reach.