By KEVIN WALKER
SAGINAW, Mich. — This year’s sugar beet crop is getting off to an especially slow start because of the cold and rainy weather.
Steven Poindexter, a Michigan State University extension educator based in Saginaw, said normal planting time for sugar beets is early April, but that planting as of last week had barely begun.
Normally April sees about 2 inches of rain, but this year the figure was already at 8 inches by April 24, Poindexter said. This has put sugar beet growers a few weeks behind schedule; however, it’s likely they will do much catching up over the next few weeks. Most of the sugar beet crop in Michigan should be planted by early May, he added.
For corn, soybeans and sugar beets the plantings will be “very compacted,” he stated. Because planting is starting late, in all likelihood the harvest will be late as well.
Normally harvest gets under way around Oct. 15, but recent sugar beet crops have been especially large, forcing growers and processors to stagger the harvest beginning as early as late August.
“That’s almost unheard of,” Poindexter said. “Even last year we had a record-breaking crop.”
The USDA’s Crop Progress and Condition report from early September 2012 stated the sugar beet harvest was occurring on an “as needed” basis. By Oct. 14, 25 percent of the crop had been harvested, with a five-year running average of 22 percent at that time.
Last year the Thumb region, where most of the sugar beets in Michigan are grown, escaped the worst of the drought, even though as Poindexter put it, sugar beets need a great deal of water.
“We don’t like to do it, but when there’s big crops you have to harvest early,” he said. “On the other hand, if you plant a little bit late, I suspect they’ll harvest a little bit later. If you get lots of rain during the summer, they can catch up. It just depends on the rain.
“At this point we’re anticipating some yield loss. On the positive side, the farmers have equipment that’s larger and faster than it used to be, so that helps; that is, if Mother Nature would just give us a break. We are a little concerned.”
Jim Collum, an agricultural statistician at the Michigan field office of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), said last year all of the sugar beet crop had been planted by this time. The five-year running average for sugar beets planted by now is 66 percent, according to the most recent NASS crop report.
That same report also said there was only one day suitable for fieldwork for that week, which ended April 21. In addition, the report notes Saginaw received 2.91 inches of rain in just that week.