Colorado Farmers Can’t Be (Sugar) Beet!

October 7, 2009

By Tyne Morgan
A Colorado sugarbeet field being harvested

A Colorado sugarbeet field being harvested

Growing up around Missouri agriculture, I am very familiar with basic Midwestern crops – soy, corn, etc. That made my visit to Colorado to meet with sugarbeet farmers that much more exciting. A highlight of my trips is the amount of information and knowledge I gain about a particular area. This time I learned about a crop and an area I knew very little about.

After my plane landed, I went to Western Sugar; a grower-owned processing facility owned (a co-op). I was amazed to learn one acre of sugar beets goes through the plant every six minutes! The product of that is the sugar you find at the store or in packets at restaurants. The amount of actual sugar content from each beet varies by area; in Northeastern Colorado the sugar content was 15 percent. The beet byproduct is then used for cattle feed.

When I asked the plant manager and growers about the difference between Genuity Roundup Ready® sugarbeets and conventional sugarbeets their passion for the crop they grow showed. They told me sugar is sugar! The growers explained that several tests have been done and there is no difference between conventional sugarbeet sugar and GenuityRoundup Ready® sugarbeet sugar.

It was really great to see how environmentally friendly these farmers are. The introduction of Genuity Roundup Ready® sugarbeets has made sugarbeet farming more environmentally friendly and less work for farmers. Before, they would have to make four or five passes over the field with chemicals because sugar beets are such a weedy crop. With the Roundup Ready® technology, they only have to make one pass! The farmers I spoke with were very thankful for that because it saves them time and money.

When I think about Colorado farming, I don’t think about water being an issue. Almost all the corn and sugarbeet acres they grow are irrigated. But because of water shortages in Nebraska and Kansas, they don’t even know the future of their water source. In fact, there are several farmers in the area I was in who have no access to water for irrigation, therefore have no water to even run their pivot irrigation systems. And without irrigation they grow wheat, millet, or nothing at all.

This defines the need for more sustainable agriculture, including drought technology. The survival of small communities like the ones in Colorado depends upon access to water. Many of the rural areas are very desolate and they’re afraid if farmers don’t have access to water for irrigation in the future, they won’t be able to farm. If they’re not able to farm, then the small communities will be gone because there won’t be agriculture to support it. It’s a scary thought, and one that could be a reality sooner than we think.

Colorado was beautiful and the people were great. But it took a while to get used to every city limit sign saying “Elevation“versus the town’s population.

You can check out Tyne’s Colorado harvest update, as well as information on sugarbeets on Monsanto.com

For more photos of Tyne’s trip, check out  the slideshow on Flickr

5 Responses to “Colorado Farmers Can’t Be (Sugar) Beet!”


  1. Great update and good pics of Colorado Agriculture. Water means everything to these farmers and they all work hard at growing a crop. Great to be a native.

  2. Katie Says:

    I like the photos! It is also good to hear about the introduction of Genuity Roundup Ready sugarbeets, sounds interesting. I definitely want to learn more about it!

  3. Steve Says:

    This is interesting, however your piece brings up a couple questions….

    1)Wasn’t the legal decision to halt RR Sugar Beets over economic and environmental impact to conventional/organic sugarbeet, table beet, and swiss chard farmers? (YES). Therefore, why bring up the point about no difference between conventional and RR sugarbeet sugar?

    2)I understand that pivot irrigation systems are much less efficient than drip irrigation, is this true?

    3)Aren’t there many other techniques and systems that could be used as alternatives to GM drought-tolerance?

  4. Tyne Says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for reading.

    I don’t know a lot about the legal matters regarding sugarbeets, but you can find some information here. The reason I brought it up is because the farmers I spoke with often get hit with accusations of GM sugar and it can be upsetting, so I wanted to include it in the piece.

    As for the second question, drip is more efficient because the water doesn’t get exposed to the atmosphere and therefore, no evaporation . But the drip system is much more expensive and maintenance is more difficult since it’s all underground. And also, you have to manage the drip systems much closer (like micromanaging.).

    For the third question, there are certain tillage systems that can help conserve moisture, but drought tolerant crops are another solution to dealing with areas where there is very little water.

  5. Ewan Ross Says:

    Steve

    I believe that greater than 90% of sugar beet grown in the US this season was or is GM – and as far as I am aware there is no decision to halt (as there was with Alfalfa) although I do recall something about there not having been and environmental impact study –

    http://geneticmaize.squarespace.com/blog/2009/9/22/no-risk-assessment-for-sugar-beets.html

    has a great summary of the issue, the long and the short of it being that the USDA has until the end of October to prepare the EIS. (The only case of ‘halting’ GM beets I am aware of was the decision in Boulder(I think…) to not allow the growing of GM beets on public land leased by farmers)

    So this year, most of the sugar coming from beets will have come from RR beets, and this sugar will be absolutely identical to the sugar coming from non GMO beets. Without even the weak arguement that the inserted proteins, or results thereof, find their way into the food supply.

    In response to 3 – I’d be amazed if there weren’t other techniques and systems that could be used as alternatives to GM drought tolerance, however I believe it would be remiss to throw away what could be a major tool in achieving drought tolerant/low water use plants in any crop because there are other alternatives that might work – especially as there is the possibility that the GM drought tolerance may well work in conjunction with the other techniques and systems giving a superior capacity to withstand drought than any method used alone.


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