Sugar Producer

June/July 2020

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Page 14 of 19 15 Managing irrigation to ensure the highest- yielding, highest-quality sugarbeet crop By Jordan Nebeker, Crop Consultant, Amalgamated Sugar Company This article appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of The Sugarbeet, the Amalgamated Sugar Company's quarterly grower publication. simply reduce the amount of water applied. For Cercospora, letting the canopy dry out during the night, especially when it is 60 degrees or warmer, helps deter the development of disease. Additionally, allowing the top part of the soil profile to dry for several days helps slow the development of root diseases. In December 2019, during the University of Idaho Sugarbeet Conference in Burley, Idaho, a panel of growers discussed strategies for controlling pests and diseases. A grower from the western part of the growing area described how irrigation plays a key role in his management decisions. He described some of the challenges of over-irrigating, citing one of his fields as an example. Disease pressure showed up in this grower's field, ultimately resulting in lost yield. Improved water management, including altering his irrigation schedule, made all the difference for this grower. He observed an overall decrease in disease pressure and an increase in yield—by as much as 10 tons per acre. During the 2019 growing season, several Amalgamated Sugar crop consultants conducted an irrigation study. The objective of the study was to gather data on how much water growers were actually applying to their sugarbeet crop, and to see if there was, in fact, excessive watering. Rain gauges were placed in fields and measured three times per week. The data was then entered into an irrigation scheduler program (Washington State University's Irrigation Scheduler), which would then plot irrigation patterns on a graph. The results concluded that the majority of growers tested by the consultants were over-watering—that is, constantly keeping the soil at field capacity. The general idea is not to do this; rather, a grower would ideally allow periods of drying between irrigations. These drying periods help build robust root structure, keep humidity down, and slow the development of root pathogens. Growers may also download and use this tool on their own smartphones by visiting or by searching for it on their device's app store. Amalgamated Sugar crop consultants can also provide more information to growers interested in learning more ways to manage irrigation. Effects of Water on Harvest Balancing weather and irrigation during harvest operations can also be a challenge. An abundance of water during harvest, whether supplied through irrigation or a weather event, can lead to compaction, mud plugging up equipment, higher tare, and potentially a delay in harvest operations. Not enough water in the soil can result in the breakage of sugarbeet tails and an overall loss of yield. Overall, growers in the West are pretty lucky. Managing irrigation is one of the most cost-effective disease and insect management strategies available in the region. Water does not have to be sugar producers' enemy. It allows us to manage the microclimate in which we are raising our sugarbeets. High-yielding, high- quality sugarbeets are often the result of mindful and balanced irrigation.

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