Energy beets in Missouri

In the 1960’s, Great Western Sugar Company had plans to build a processing facility in Southeast Missouri.  For eight years, field research was conducted at the University of Missouri- Delta Center in Portageville to provide farmers with local information on sugar beet varieties, weed control, soil fertility, row spacing, plant population, fumigants, fungicides for control of Cerocospora leaf spot, and Rhizoctonia root rot. This research was directed by Jim Roth, Harold Kerr, Armon Keaster, and Charles Baldwin.  Beets were planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Renewed interest in growing to beets in Missouri has developed because beet varieties are now available for biofuel production.

Jake Fisher, recently retired superintendent at the Delta Center, managed most of  the plot work for the scientists from 1963 to 1970. Sugar beet yields at the Delta Center varied from 8.4 to 36 tons per acre.  To read the full report, click  Sugar Beet Research in Southeast Missouri 1970. Most years, they found the highest yields occurred on clay soils. Deep cultivation after emergence of sugar beets improved penetration of the the irrigation water. Variety tolerance and foliar fungicide sprays were effective in controlling Cerocospora leaf spot.

In 1970, six farmers in Southeast Missouri grew sugar beets on a commercial scale. The Great Western Sugar Company had a field man in the area to assist the growers. Unfortunately, growers had problems harvesting their beets because the weather was extremely wet.  Even though beets grew well on gumbo soil, field drainage, especially on clay, was important for harvesting in the fall.Despite the problem with commercial scale harvesting, Jim Roth concluded that sugar beets can be economically produced in southeast Missouri.

Over the course of their research, the most evident problem was the damage caused by root rots that sometimes reduced the stand of beets. They also observed that harvesting techniques needed to be improved because

beets grown in Missouri protruded above the ground more than they do in other areas. Machinery used in western states was not acceptable because many beets were pushed to the side and did not enter the harvester.  They concluded that less power is required for harvesting than beets growing in the soil to the depth of the crown.