It’s over, harvest is finally over. There is nothing quite like being done with beets. Most beet farmers would agree that beet harvest is perhaps the biggest undertaking on their farm. You just never know what is going to happen. The weather is always the biggest unknown, it may be to hot, to cold, to wet, it can also be to dry. Machinery may break, somebody usually does something dumb in the field, you never know what is going to happen during beets. This year was perhaps the strangest of years, sure some people did some dumb things, that is to be expected, but the unexpected happened this year, it didn’t rain.
The business end of the beet harvester.
One of the nice things about beets is that once they are in the pile we are done with them. We belong to the American Crystal Sugar Company Coop. The sugar company processes and markets the sugar for us. Marketing is usually the hardest thing a farmer has to do and it is nice to not have to do it with sugarbeets. Also, we don’t have to worry about storage.
Living along the Canadian border, we have a very distinct advantage with sugar beets. That would be storage. We pile them outside on the ground. The beet piles will freeze over winter keeping them fresh for processing. So while most people like a warm winter, I like it to be cold. I like the beets to freeze and store well so the company has a quality product from which to make sugar.
I had the opportunity to attend a fundraiser for Congressman Pomeroy (D-ND) just across the river from where I live on Monday. His guest was Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. It’s a good sign when a place to far north to be considered fly over country gets a visit from a cabinet level official.
Since this is home to the nation’s largest sugar producer American Crystal Sugar Company (www.crystalsugar.com) a lot of the talk was about the sugar industry. Recently, as I’ve blogged about before, the use of biotech sugarbeets is currently in question.
In a small group conversation with the Secretary we talked about one thing very important to this country’s stability and success. That is the fact that we are well fed. I remember being in a place called Mtubatuba, South Africa in about 1998. It’s a rural area, probably pretty typical to any rural area on earth. We were there on a Saturday and happened to visit the grocery store. The shelves were empty. It was something that I had never seen and quickly realized that I had taken for granted the abundance of our food supply.
My dad lived through World War II and served in Korea. One thing he always talked about when I questioned the future of farming is the fact that “people gotta eat.” He had seen Europe go hungry and defended their farm policy due to the fact that they had gone hungry and would never go hungry again. He would say that this country will forever take its farmers for granted until they went hungry. And its true. We are, and any country for that matter, 10 days away from a revolt. Ten days being the extent of our food supply.
So while many groups would complain about the way our food is produced and the technology we use or don’t use, let’s be thankful that we have something to complain about. Life would be a lot worse if our grocery store shelves were empty.
I need to break away from my harvest blogs to post this blog about another portion of my farm – sugarbeets.
Last Friday, a judge in San Francisco ruled that sugarbeet producers could not plant Round Up Ready sugarbeets in 2011. Some in this country would like to do away with biotechnology saying it is unsafe for the environment. As a sugar producer I would tell you the biotechnology is good for the environment. With the Round Up technology we spray chemical on our beets twice a year. This produces a weed free field of beets. Using conventional seed, we spray a concoction of chemicals on our beets 3 or 4 and maybe 5 times a year. Hopefully, this produces a crop that is mostly weed free. Weeds rob a crop of sunlight and moisture and rob the farmer of quality and quantity. This is a very simple explanation of the issue, and that is the way it should be analyzed. Keep it simple, stupid. To often in this country, people who mean well get involved with something without knowing all the facts. The fact is, biotechnology reduces the chemical inputs a farmer needs to use, and therefore is good for the environment. On Friday, the environment lost.
This is a beet field after 4 inches of rain in 1 night. The neighbor doesn’t have good drainage so the water flooded our field. Nobody lives in the farmyard in the back because of frequent high water.
As I wrote about 2 weeks ago, we got a much needed rain. Unfortunately, as happens in this part of the world, our rainy day has turned into a damp 10 days. We haven’t done any field work since then. I did drive out to the field yesterday, and my tractor is still sitting where I left it.
On the bright side, I have just about finished up on my to do list. I finished installing the shelf I built for my wife, I’ve updated most of my farming software (John Deere could take a lesson from Microsoft), and my desk is almost clean.
Today, we are working on crop insurance. It seems the fight agains waste, fraud, and abuse is going quite well. The crop insurance rules for sugar beets regarding ownership entities and the land they are grown on are a classic case of the simplicity of paper getting in the way of the complexity of reality. I understand that some imaginative farmers have enough time on there hands to learn how to game the system but it makes it a hair pulling process for the rest of us (the majority of us) that do it right. The rules are to complex to try to explain in this entry so you’ll have to take my word for it. Maybe in the next 2 week rain event I’ll try to tackle the issue.
Speaking of the beets, we did get the cold temps last week. The shop thermometer hit 26 at 5:30 am on Sunday. Fortunately, it seems the week of cold weather toughened up the beets that had grown above the ground. Also, it didn’t stay cold for a long enough period of time. Also, it is still to wet to replant any, so I’d be surprised if any beets are replanted due to the frost.
While last week we got the million dollar rain, today is a reminder of how fast the tide can turn to to much rain. While we didn’t have a lot of sunshine, fields dried out nicely as of this morning. We checked a few fields this morning, the wheat is coming along nicely and a few beets are up. Then, this afternoon we had more rain.
Adding to the anxiety is the forecast for freezing temps. While wheat will be ok, the sugar beets can freeze if it gets cold enough. Frozen beets are a bad thing. They’ve been in the ground for a few weeks already and have gotten a good start to the growing season. Replanting beets is not a fun occasion as we would lose those weeks of growth as well as the added expense of doing an operation twice. To top it off, at the present, field conditions are to wet to do anything. This could set us back even further in the growing season.
We will be anxiously watching the forecast for Thursday and Friday nights. The Canadian and American forecasts are a bit different. Hopefully, we can sneak by.