Weed Control in Sugar Beet Production Utilizing Ridge Tillage and Cover Crops

Final Report for FNC92-013

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1992: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1993
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $17,654.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


We operate a family farm of 5,550 acres in West Central Minnesota. Our farm is located 20 miles east of the North Dakota/ South Dakota border, on the eastern edge of the Red River Valley. We cash crop corn, soybeans, wheat and sugar beets. Since the mid seventies we have reduced inputs by use of soil testing and integrated pest management (IPM). In early 1980’s we started developing an ultra low rate application of chemical on sugar beets. The modified ridge till system started in the fall of 1988.

This project brings together a combination of individuals from farm, industry, farm consultants and the universities.

- Jerry Smith, crop consultant, farm management and agricultural researcher. He was involved in design, direction and gathering of research data.
- Bob Aune, our farm’s machinery manager. He was involved in design and operation of specialized equipment
- Dr. Joseph F. Giles, department of Soil Science NDSU. He was an advisor.
- Dr. Allan Cattanach, Extension Sugar beet Specialist. Was another advisor.
- Dr. Allen Dexter, Extension Sugar beet Specialist NDSU and U of M. He was an advisor also.
- John Bergman, sales manager, Hilleshog Mono-Hy (Sugar beet seed sales). Field day and fact sheet.
- Don Lilleboe, editor of “The Sugar beet Grower”. He helped with publicity.
- Victor Klosterman, chief engineer, Alloway Rau Manufacturing. Equipment development.

Project 1 – Modified Ridge Till System and Cover Cropping

Description of Conventional methods to be improved on: Conventional fall tillage in sugar beet production would consist of three tillage passes. 1) Mold board plowing or heavy disking. 2) Chisel plowing. 3) Field cultivation to level the field, in a sense doing part of spring tillage in the fall. Spring tillage is usually accomplished by intensive multiple passes. This soil conditioning equipment has close spacing between teeth and rolling baskets meant to break up soil into smaller particles. This tillage creates a garden like seed bed.

It is more difficult for sugar beets to germinate and emerge than wheat, corn or soybeans. This is justification for intensive tillage which makes the soil prone to wind or water erosion.

Description of modified ridge till system for sugar beet production: this project will modify ridge till systems and make it adaptable to sugar beet production. In the past, ridge tilling sugar beets has not been accepted because of associated problems of crop rotation, soil type, residue management, row width and tradition.

Because of small grain in the rotation and the heavy traffic during sugar beet harvest it is impossible to maintain continual ridges. To receive the agronomic and environmental benefits of ridge planting, we will modify conventional ridge till practices.

Soon after grain harvest we will use a deep ripper to the depth of 12 to 14” to assist in breaking up compaction and to control residue. Between August 25 and October 20 we would build ridges with a ridge till cultivator.

The system would reduce winter soil erosion by managing crop residue and building ridges in the fall on small grain stubble.

De-ridging and planting into a moist well drained, warm seed environment should net higher yields and profits because of increase stand, emergence and seedling vigor when dry springs occur.

De-ridging attachments will be placed directly on the planter for a single pass operation. If the beet planter is not capable of running in moist conditions, separate tool bar equipment with de-ridging attachments will accomplish de-ridging prior to planting. This separate trip can be used as a management tool varying the time needed to regulate the moisture of the seed bed.

Once the field is planted the operations will continue as normal except that herbicide applications will be reduced because of uniform weed germination.

When we developed the modified ridge till system we used ridge cleaners similar to those used in ridge tillage of corn and beans. Additional small harrow (drag) sections behind each cleaner helped develop a shallow layer of lose soil to insulate the seed bed from drying out and from crusting.

The modified ridge till system for sugar beet production has benefits and has shown improvements in erosion control. However, additional strides can be taken to further reduce the probability of soil erosion. By planting a spring cover crop we can protect the fragile sugar beet seedling from moving soil and the strong spring winds.

Project 2 – Increase Crop Quality & Income by Reducing Nitrogen

In the spring of 1992 I was planning to apply for a grant. With confidence I applied nitrogen at 4 different levels and replicated them two times.

Preliminary observations on our farm seem to indicate that by lowering the amount of nitrogen from recommended levels we can increase the quality of sugar beet and therefore increase profits. We took soil tests in August of 1991 and April of 1992.

Farming in the southern Red River Valley and in the Minn Dak growing area our recommended Nitrogen application called for 60 additional pounds of Nitrogen.

It is generally acknowledged that excessive Nitrogen over recommended rates will lower sugar quality and income. But I have felt that recommended levels were excessive.

We applied no fertilizer in the fall or spring because of high levels of phosphorus and potassium. In the beginning of June we side dressed liquid Nitrogen (28% Nitrogen) behind the cut-a-way disk of our beet cultivator placing the Nitrogen 2 ½” to the side of the beet and 1 ½” below the surface. This application was made in moist soil followed by a nice 1” of rain.

Application rates were 0, 25, 33, and 55 pounds of added Nitrogen. The highest return per acre was at 25 lbs. of Nitrogen, 35 lbs. below the recommended level.

While net ton/acre was lower by 0.77 T/acre, the quality was higher.
Sugar% 0.96% higher
Purity 2.16% higher
Sugar/Ton 28 lbs./ton
Sugar/Acre 263 lbs/acre
Income/Acre $36.82 higher income
Fertilizer/Acre $13.75 lower cost (28% Nitrogen $.25/lbs x 55 lbs)
Net Income/ Acre $50.57 increase in profit/acre

Project 3 – Post Emergence Weed Control Using Ultra Low Rate

We have developed a sustainable weed control practice that has reduced the level of active ingredients by 81%, 1.96 lbs/ acre to .38 lbs/acre. We have done this by eliminating the use of pre-emerge chemicals. We schedule, early in the season, three applications every 5 to 6 days using ¼ to 1/3 the recommended rates. One must kill the weeds in their cotyledon stage. We have proven this method on our farm for a number of years. We used a demonstration plot and slides to show the public its effectiveness.

The application was made with a band sprayer spraying a 7” band on a 22” row. The first application of herbicide was applied when the beets and weeds were in the cotyledon stage.

Broadcast equivalent (BE) 1 pt Betanex (33% of normal) plus 1 oz Stinger (25% of normal) plus 3/8 pt Post (37.5% of normal). The second application was made when the beets were in the 2 leaf stage 1 ½ pts Betanex (50% of normal) plus 2 oz Stinger (50% of normal) 3/8 pt Post (37.5% of normal). Both researchers and farmers don’t feel these low rates work.

In conjunction with Alloway Manufacturing of Fargo ND we designed, built and assembled a deridger that would remove the soil from the top of the ridge and seed a cover crop at the same time.

The equipment consisted of 4 main aspects:
1) A piece of equipment called an Alloway Seed bedder to remove the top of the ridge.
2) A Gandy air seeder to hold the cover crop seed holds ½ days worth of seed.
3) A delivery system of hoses and openers to deliver the seed form the tank precisely to a row of cover crop beside the beet row.
4) A guidance system to keep the beet row and cover crop rows in place.

How this works is the front tractor wheels would follow the valley between the ridges. The rear steel guide wheel establishes a new guide mark for the planter tractor. The deridger is guided by tandem wheels. The small Danish teeth remove the top of the ridge leaving a moist band of soil where the best seed will be planted.

The largest problem we encountered was wet and cold weather and poor growing conditions from planting to the end of July. Our soils were saturated with rainfall. The soil laws so wet, tractors were unable to move in the fields and the beets would not grow properly. Because of these conditions, the replicated plot that was planted had to be abandoned as a plot. An additional problem of excessive volunteer wheat in combination with the planted barley, and the poor herbicide timing due to wet weather caused too much competition with the sugar beets. This should not be as much a problem in a normal year.

1) Control the weeds
2) Lower cost/acre
3) Reduce Sugar beet damage
4) Maintain reasonably clean fields
5) Eliminate the use of pre-emergence herbicide
6) Reduce the negative impact to the environment by reducing total amount of active ingredients

1) Inconsistent results
2) Damage to crops
3) High cost

4) One poor performance lead to another
5) Increased environmental risk

1) Reduce the amount of chemical in each application by ½ to ¾
2) Apply first application on a very timely manner
3) Schedule repeat applications

1) Frequently monitor the field
2) Determine when the weeds are just emerging (7 days after planting if planted in late April or May)
3) Spray the first time when weeds are young cotyledon stage
4) Repeat application on schedule, second application 6th day, third application 11th day

1) Highest regard for timing and schedule
2) Disregard the size of Sugar beet – cotyledon beets will not be damaged at these rates.
3) Don’t concern myself with poor performance from one application, just stay on schedule and spray again.
4) Disregard climactic conditions, the schedule and timing is far more important than right temp, humidity, or wind.
5) Adjust quantity of chemical for high temp and high humidity and stay on schedule
6) Use right chemical (Betanex better than Betamix)
7) Apply by air to say on schedule

1) Timing of the application is far more important than quantity of chemical
2) Set up a spray schedule and spray! Instead of determining when to spray, plan to spray unless you can prove to you self you don’t have to.

We had a farmer meeting where we had 70 farmers attend. We showed slides and had a discussion. Our consultant will present and publish at the research reporting section of “The Sugar Beet Research and Extension Reports”. Our first of a couple of articles will appear in The Sugarbeet Grower magazine.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.