Beets are producing “sweet” results with researchers at the University of Georgia.

Timothy Grey, an associate professor on the Tifton campus of UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Ted Webster, research agronomist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, are collaborating on a project with Betaseed Inc.

The research team is studying the production of winter-grown, energy beets for biofuel usage.

If successful, this will provide farmers across the Southeast with a winter crop to grow in rotation with their summer commodities.

The use of energy beets as a biofuel crop would also create an alternative to cellulosic biofuel production and would not displace the current summer crop production.

“One of the things this industry is looking at is potentially using a source of sugar to make ethanol that doesn’t involve food processing,” Grey said.

“You would be taking what is classified as an energy beet and directly using that as a source of ethanol production versus having to go through the conversion process and using corn, which is much more valuable in other areas.”

The project is entering its second harvest season, following a season of “promising results” in 2012. The Georgia research team produced more than the average beet yield in the Midwest, which is about 30-35 tons, Webster said.

“Our best harvest was in the middle of June 2012. We were looking at about 57 tons to the acre,” said Webster, who evaluated seven different harvest times from April through August.

“I think if we were able to manipulate that planting date, going after corn and getting it in during September, we’ll be able to maximize our yields earlier in the season so it won’t affect transitioning into cotton and peanuts.”

Grey and Webster are trying to avoid planting behind those popular commodities because of their late harvest times. If energy beets are planted earlier in the autumn season, they could be harvested earlier the following year.