Early freeze has minimal impact


WYO-BRASKA – An early-season freeze last week had minimal effects on crops across the Wyo-Braska as producers gear up for harvest beginning soon.

Jerry Darnell, vice president of agriculture for the Western Sugar Cooperative in Scottsbluff, Neb., said temperatures in the upper 20s to low 30s last week weren’t enough to cause sugarbeet producers any real concern.

“It didn’t get cold enough to affect the beets,” Darnell said. “The beets are still in good shape.”

Freezing temperatures can lead to a host of problems in sugarbeets, including stopping the root putting on sugar. If the roots – where the sugar is stored – freeze, there can also be issues with spoilage when their piled up at the processing plants.

For now, though, none of those problems is of any concern to Darnell and his crews.

“We’re still on track; everything is going as planned,” he said. “Right now, things are good.”

The latest tests done Saturday showed average sugar content of 16.1% with tons-per-acre yields ranging in the upper 20s to low 30s, Darnell said. As of Tuesday, about 10% of the 2020 beet crop was out of the ground under early-harvest conditions.

Things are going well in other parts of the 111,000-acre Western Sugar Coop growing region in Colorado, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming. Plants in Lovell, Colo., and Billings, Mont., are reporting sugar content in the same range – around the 16% mark – on similar yields.

“Compared to last year – so far, Mother Nature has blessed us with a really good crop,” Darnell said. “We’ve had lots of growing degree days, the heat units – as long as they get water to them the crop has performed.”

Wait-and-See

Cody Creech, dryland crop systems specialist at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, said there were some parts of the Wyo-Braska that could have been impacted by the brief freeze at the start of last week. Corn and dry edible beans, for example, that hadn’t reached full maturity by the time the mercury dove could be impacted by the cold.

“For the most part, most of the corn and dry beans were near maturity,” Creech said. “We’re not terribly worried about what was going on out there.

“It’s still dependent on what stage the crop was in,” he said. “Generally, when we see frost or freeze this late in the game, yield impacts are fairly low.”

Still, that doesn’t mean there might not be some impact, particularly on quality issues, important with dry beans which are graded at the elevator with the best quality commanding premium prices.

“But, the more mature the crop is, the less of an impact as far as quality issues there is,” Creech said.

By and large, however, the 2020 harvest is shaping up to be better overall than last year, Creech said. Where last year kicked off with cold, wet weather, only to wrap up with portions of the Wyo-Braska losing irrigation water for much of the critical time when crops were maturing, this year was significantly better.

“This year compared to last year – we did almost a complete-180,” he said. “There were much warmer temperatures and much dryer weather than last year.

“And that’s a great combination if iyou have adequate irrigation water out there,” Creech said. “We’re seeing a lot of irrigated (acres) this year will really have fantastic crops.”

Looking ahead

Even as combines are greased and bins get a last-minute airing out in anticipation of harvest 2020 launching full tilt soon, now is also the time producers can start to think about the future – in particular, the 2021 planting season. It’s never too soon to take a look at next year’s crops and management strategies, even as they’re driving the combine to get this year’s harvest out of the field, Creech said.

“Now is the time to be making management and crop plans,” he said. “Asking, ‘What soil water and nutrients are going to be left behind that I can use next year?’”

Much of the crop producing regions of the country, but the Wyo-Braska in particular, go through weather cycles, swinging like a pendulum between wet and dry on pretty much a five- to seven-year cycle, Creech said. And, with the pendulum swinging back toward the dryer side, growers may need to adjust what they’re doing, how they’re selecting crops and varieties as they’re planning ahead.

“As we go into a dry period, it should cause growers to re-evaluate their crop rotations – looking for crops with better water use efficiency or more drought tolerance,” he said. “Now is a great time to re-evaluate.”

And one older farming practice that’s virtually gone out of favor in the 21st century is fallowing field – leaving them untouched and unplanted after harvest, to give the land a chance to recharge, Creech said. Particularly in dry or near-drought conditions, fallowing a field can be a viable option and one that can preserve soil moisture for future crops.

“Using fallow is not out of the question when we have drought periods,” he said. “Fallow does have a place when we have limited water and rainfall – it can be very beneficial.

“There are some instances where fallow definitely has a place,” Creech said.

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