Hi, I'm Alan Welp and I'm a Sugarbeet Farmer

By M. Burger 10/13/2009

Alan Welp’s excitement over sugarbeet farming isn’t just about higher yields and bigger dollars. For the Wray, Colorado farmer, it’s passion that drives him every year to plant and harvest sugarbeets.

Welp said that Mother Nature made this year a little bit sweeter for him as a sugarbeet farmer.

“It’s been a very interesting season because it’s been a cool, wet spring which was tremendous,” Welp said. “With the moisture we had this spring, it was just unbelievable. We had very good emergence and very good stands with the sugarbeet seeds.”

“We then had a very cool summer,” he said. “We had a lot of moisture in early July when we were trying to get our wheat crop out and the sugarbeets just really loved it.”

Welp said that the only negative about all the moisture is the beets are displaying a few more root diseases than they would normally see. Welp’s practice of strip till adds to the number of these diseases, but it’s also this culture practice that increases his production.

“Today, our strip till practices and new and improved seed varieties has given us more tonnage than in years past, “ he said.

Monsanto’s Roundup Ready® technology has also played a major role on Welp’s sugarbeet farm.

“We’ve enjoyed the transition to Genuity™ Roundup Ready sugarbeets,” Welp said. “Roundup® helps us be more efficient with strip till and improving that culture practice.”

Roundup has made for an easier management of our weeds,” he said. “Roundup has been efficient because you don’t cultivate in strip till. You use the Roundup technology to control your weeds as opposed to cultivation. It’s eliminated using a lot of the other chemicals which means we don’t have to put down anything prior to planting.”

Planting is only part of the growing season. There’s a lot more to consider according to Welp, especially timing.

“In raising a sugar beet crop, we generally start in March with tilling of the soil or strip-till if we didn’t get it done in the fall,” Welp said. “And you put some fertilizer on the soil at that time as well.”

“In the middle of April we start planting the sugar beets,” he said. “As soon as they are planted we start running center pivot sprinklers and we’ll put on a light amount of water to moisten the seed to enhance germination. Then, as the beets start to emerge, we’ll run quick passes of water to help soften the crust so that they can emerge. As soon as they emerge, we’ll spray Roundup, maybe one or two passes depending on the weed pressure.”

“As the heat comes on in June and July it’s all about irrigation,” he said. “We’re constantly looking out for disease pressures because of the moisture. For some of the root diseases we can put on some different types of fungicide to control root diseases. From there, it’s a matter of managing the water and disease pressure and then we move toward harvest.”

Given all the challenges with farming sugarbeets, Welp said his biggest challenge is the marketplace.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting an adequate return on our product,” he said. “The last couple of years we’ve seen reasonable markets and it’s been a lot more enjoyable raising sugar beets along with the improved variety performance that we’ve had.”

“The sugar price is decent right now,” he said. “The USDA was given a set of tools on how to manage our sugar program. The USDA has managed price a lot better than they had in previously in the old farm bill and I’m excited about that.”

Although there are a lot of challenges in his line of work, Welp maintains his passion about the crop.

“Beets are a high-maintenance crop, but I enjoy it,” Welp said. “It’s a lot of fun. You’re out there constantly monitoring your emergence, but that’s what it’s all about. It’s a challenge that I enjoy. And the harvest part is very intense, but nothing beats a sugarbeet harvest.”