FARGO, N.D. -- Stay tuned.
That's the only message available on the Roundup Ready sugar beet question for 2011 as Red River Valley and southern Minnesota farmers prepare for a sugar beet planting season, which could be less than a month away.
Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugar Beet Growers Association, the chief lobbyist for the beet growing industry nationwide, appeared earlier this month at the International Sugarbeet Institute in Fargo, N.D. Often, Markwart was swarmed by curious beet growers as he made his way through the international trade show. He spoke to 500 growers the first day and made a second appearance in the second day of the two-day show. The primary topic was the legal threats to the 2011 and 2012 crops.
The region's three farmer-owned beet sugar cooperatives continue to make their contingency plans for 2011 plantings, but the situation still appears fluid.
The issue is whether farmers will be willing to plant Roundup Ready beets, despite significant recordkeeping and monitoring requirements and the threat of lawsuits that could slap them with a crop destruct order in the middle of the growing season.
The other choice is to shift to conventional beets, which are harder to manage for weeds and probably will reduce yields, until the U.S. Department of Agriculture completes a required environmental impact statement -- probably not settled until the 2013 crop, but perhaps not even then.
Meanwhile, choosing to shift to conventional beets involves using the so-called "microrate" cocktails of herbicides, and tight, time-sensitive applications when weeds are small.
American Crystal Sugar Co., of Moorhead, with its five plants in the central and northern Red River Valley, appears to be the most cautious and so far has not approved the planting of Roundup Ready beets for 2011. A board meeting that had been scheduled this past week has been rescheduled for March 30.
Crystal's decisions also affect their subsidiary, Sidney Sugars Inc., in Sidney, Mont., which involves contract growers who planted 35,000 acres last year. Because of their growing method -- often involving flood irrigation and difficulties in weed control -- the prospect of losing Roundup Ready beets could significantly cut acres there, said one Sidney grower attending the beet institute.
Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., is repeating the mantra "stay tuned," but Dave Roche, the cooperative's president and chief executive officer, in a conversation with Agweek, underlined the fact that the plantings so far are legal, with extra conditions and record-keeping.
Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville has grower education meetings scheduled to start this past week.
The earliest date for planting sugar beets in the Red River Valley is April 11. Often, the bulk of beets are planted in and around the last week of March, if the weather and soil moisture is fit.
Mikkel Pates writes for Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.