Sugar beet planting is getting back on schedule in Southern Idaho and Eastern Oregon following earlier heavy rains.
“We were late going in because of the rain, but we got them all planted,” said Galen Lee, who farms in New Plymouth, Idaho, about 10 miles from the Oregon border. “They’ve got moisture now, so they are coming up.”
Beet planting on his farm was two to three weeks later than average for his area, he said.
“It was a little challenging because of the rain, but we got through that,” Lee said April 26. “Right now they look good, though they were delayed a little bit.”
Growers in Idaho and Oregon own Boise-based cooperative Amalgamated Sugar, a major processor. The company as of Aug. 26 had planted 159,593 acres of sugar beets, spokeswoman Jessica McAnally said.
“This puts us at 90% planted companywide,” she said. Planting should be close to complete in the next couple of weeks.
Duane Grant, a south-central Idaho grower who chairs the Amalgamated board, said that at this time last year, the company’s growers were 97% planted. They were 84% planted as of late April 2017 following an extraordinarily heavy winter, and 97% in the more normal 2016.
This year, “it’s a little late,” he said. “We’d like to be done. It will have an impact.”
On-time planting positions sugar beets, one of the later-harvested crops in the region, to take full advantage of lengthening days, higher temperatures and the area’s tendency to stay mild well into October. Late planting limits the vegetables’ total time spent in ideal growing conditions and may reduce yield.
“You need length of time in the ground,” Lee said. “You need growing season, and you can’t make that up.”
But a beet crop can still thrive if it is planted a bit late.
“We are always optimistic,” Lee said. “We watch as they are growing and see how they are growing. And we can fine-tune some things — fertilizer, water frequency and that kind of thing as we go through the growing season.”
Grant said that while current planting progress puts Amalgamated 6 to 7 percentage points closer to the crop’s finish, “Mother Nature can deliver good growing weather and still make that up. Now it does set us behind a little in keeping up with our yield trend lines.”
When planting is delayed, Amalgamated’s growers don’t have much room to try to extend the growing season given the company’s manufacturing timetables.
“We like to get all beets out of the ground by the end of October, or early November at the latest,” McAnally said, “to ensure the highest quality and sugar content, and to allow us enough time to process the whole crop.”
Harvesting them late can worsen storage conditions by adding mud to storage piles, she said. Mud also may prompt beets to try to regenerate and grow, using sugar in the process.
“It’s a lot better to not be late” at harvest, McAnally said.
Bruce Corn, who farms between Cairo Junction and Nyssa, Ore., said he was “fortunate to get things in between the rainstorms.”
He finished planting sugar beets April 4, on time by a comfortable margin for his growing area. Plants, leaves and stands look good.
“If we start getting beyond April 15, it starts to become a concern over possible maturity issues in the fall,” Corn said, “with lower yield and proportionally smaller size.”
He said April 26 that planting was still happening in some areas north and west, which have heavier soils and received a bit more rain.
“We were very fortunate,” Corn said. “Some of our ground was a little lighter and we were able to get started on time.”