The Sugarbeet Search Is On

Experts offer advice on what to look for and how to match seeds with needs.

Published on: Dec 31, 2012

Sugarbeet growers are on a search this time of year – for the best sugarbeet varieties to plant during the upcoming season. During seed purchasing season, sugarbeet growers have a lot to consider before making a final decision.

"Selecting the correct variety is essential in raising a solid sugarbeet crop," says Doug Ruppal, sugarbeet crop specialist with Syngenta. "Growers need to select varieties not only on performance, but on their own personal needs, such as soil types, past history, disease factors and rotation schedule. It will also define a field's maintenance program for the next growing season."

Racehorse or workhorse?

The Sugarbeet Search Is On
The Sugarbeet Search Is On
It seems obvious that growers should select a variety that delivers high yield and sugar content, but those varieties aren't always the right choice for every grower. Ruppal explained that it is difficult to find a high-yielding, high-sugar variety that also contains multiple disease-tolerant traits.

Ultimately, varieties are placed into two unofficial categories by some in the industry: racehorse varieties and workhorse varieties. Racehorse varieties tend to result in higher yields and sugar content while workhorse varieties feature broader, more effective disease tolerance packages. Although racehorse varieties may have attractive yield and sugar data from cooperatives' official variety trials (OVTs), Ruppal warned that those statistics are the result of a controlled environment that removes factors of disease and insects.

Matching the variety to the field
Growers can start their search for next year's crop by examining results and data from their cooperative's OVTs. Trials report attributes of interest, including yield data, recoverable sugar, sugar loss to molasses and disease tolerance ratings. Each cooperative's field agents, university extension specialists, seed agents and other farmers can also help growers narrow down potential variety choices.

In addition to outside data and recommendations, experts advise growers to thoroughly evaluate their own fields. "Growers are always evaluating fields from a yield and quality standpoint, but one of the primary characteristics growers need to monitor is disease prevalence, especially Rhizoctonia and Fusarium. Sugarbeets are known to fall prey to quite a few diseases," says Bill Gilbert, solutions development manager, Syngenta. "Growers may also want to take soil samples and test nitrogen levels, which in excess can suppress sugarbeet quality."

First line of defense against disease
With sugarbeet production occurring from Washington to Michigan, weather and soil conditions vary but disease concerns remain constant. Drawing conclusions based on field and rotation history can help foreshadow threatening diseases and pests.

~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~When a disease pathogen enters a field, it's pretty much there to stay, says Bob Harveson, Extension plant pathologist, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "These diseases, once they're established in the field, they're not really going to go away," Harveson explained. "Diseases are always there, to a certain extent. The levels may fluctuate, but it's dependent on the environment."

Don't wait to re-evaluate
It's always nice to reap a better-than-expected yield, as many sugarbeet farmers experienced this year. Success can be sweet – but that's no excuse to assume a high-yielding variety will bring similar results in the years that follow. Even if growers achieve record yields and sugar content or effective disease management, fields should be re-evaluated every year as conditions can change.

Disease pathogens and insect pests can travel and evolve unexpectedly, which can catch growers off-guard. Rotations with corn crops also leave sugarbeets more susceptible to Rhizoctonia.

Ruppal says sugarbeet co-ops around the country strongly consider disease tolerance when approving varieties for their member farmers because pathogen vectors vary from year to year and can be impossible to predict.

"During OVTs, the co-ops are looking at multiple characteristics. Of course, yield and sugar are very important, but they also weigh disease tolerance traits just as heavily, if not more," Ruppal says. "That goes for Rhizoctonia, Cercospora and Aphanomyces in the Red River Valley; Rhizoctonia and Fusarium in Colorado and Nebraska; and powdery mildew and curly top in Idaho."

Warm weather will wane
While many crop growers across the country experienced frustrating issues with the unusually hot, dry summer of 2012, the weather was advantageous for sugarbeet farmers. Disease pathogens were kept relatively dormant in the absence of high humidity and the dry soil made harvesting much easier.

"It was a lot hotter, a lot drier this year. We didn't see some diseases as readily as we often do because the environment was not conducive for many of them to occur," Harveson says.

"Diseases like Cercospora need a combination of hot weather and humidity to thrive," he adds. "A warm, dry growing season was a nice gift for sugarbeet farmers, but they certainly shouldn't expect any consistency."

Changes in weather, soil conditions and disease pathogen activity can significantly reduce yield and sugar content, but "selecting the right variety can be the critical start to a successful crop," Ruppal says.

Although sugarbeet farmers would like to think this past season is the beginning of a new weather trend, experts report it is unlikely next summer will bring the same experience.

Although sugarbeet farmers won't need to head into the wilderness or stand in holiday-sized lines for next year's sugarbeet stand – 'tis the season for searching!