Planting after corn is also beneficial because it allows beet farmers to use left-over nitrogen remaining in the soil. The beets’ deep tap roots mine soil nitrates from soil depths of 8 feet.

“It scavenges the remaining nitrogen in the soil that was put out on the corn and puts it to use,” Webster said.

By growing energy beets during the winter, Grey and Webster can make better use of the resources at their disposal. They are taking advantage of the mild climate in south Georgia, which offers very little freezing temperatures during the winter months. If successful, planting energy beet could provide farmers a winter commodity to grow in rotation with their summer crops.

“I think this system makes sense for our growers; it allows them to take advantage of a time of year where we don’t have anything in the ground and provides them with another potential cash crop,” Webster said.

While the prospect of farming energy beets is looking up for farmers in the region, he said there are concerns that still need to be addressed.

“Excessive persistence from previous herbicides put out in cotton and peanuts could be an issue. There are carry over issues with establishment in some of the energy beets,” Webster said. “That’s one problem we foresee. Another problem would be some of the plant pathogens as well as nematodes.”

Nematodes are round worms that feed on roots and cause galls to form. This prunes the roots and limits the amount of water the plant can access, resulting in stunted and wilted plants. When plants are weakened, other diseases may occur.

While the economics of growing energy beets needs to be evaluated for south Georgia, the crop is well established in other regions of the U.S.

Nitrogen, fungicide and herbicide levels are currently being evaluated and will help clarify the crop’s economic potential in the region.

“In terms of production, energy beets offer a big yield and represent a second cash crop when fields are typically empty,” Grey said. “Given the world economy, growing energy alternatives to oil, which are adaptable to changes in the market will be the key to success.”

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