Progress continues on a project to develop a new industrial crop in North Dakota called energy beets, which are sugar beets bred for the biofuel market and industrial purposes, such as high-value chemicals.

That progress includes research that shows how energy beets can be grown with great success outside of the traditional production area of the Red River Valley, according to Blaine Schatz, North Dakota State University Carrington Research Extension Center director and member of the research team.

"Our demonstration and yield trial plots are showing how energy beets can produce high yields in many different soil types and conditions," Schatz says. "That includes the extremely dry conditions that North Dakota experienced in 2012. Despite below-average rainfall at most of the trial sites last summer, the root yields and sugar content results often were as good, or better, than our trials in previous years."

In 2012, there were 13 plots in 11 locations across North Dakota. The five irrigated sites were near Dazey/Hannaford, Carrington, Williston, Oakes and Turtle Lake. The eight dryland locations were near Dazey/Hannaford, Carrington, Minot, Langdon, Spiritwood, Litchville, Harvey and Colgate.

This summer, trials will be held in the same 11 locations, plus at a dryland plot in the Cando area.

Along with tolerating dry soils, energy beets also can help farmers by improving soil health.

"Farmers who raise energy beets may see improved soil health because the tap root penetrates as deep as 6 feet to use nutrients, nitrogen and water that most other crops don't reach," Schatz says. "Energy beets also improve internal soil drainage and are relatively tolerant to alkaline (saline) soils. Growers who add energy beets into a four-year rotation could expect another profitable income opportunity."

The energy beet project and research is a partnership between Fargo-based Green Vision Group (GVG) and Iowa-based Heartland Renewable Energy.

"The project is in its final research phase, which will contribute to future commercialization efforts," says Maynard Helgaas, GVG president. "Commercialization may begin in 2014 or 2015 and be followed by a series of up to 16 plants across the state. These plants could produce sugar for industrial purposes or produce advanced biofuel. Each plant could create 23 jobs and require 30,000 acres of energy beets for feedstock."

Other energy beet research by NDSU focuses on feedstock storage methods that will enable biofuel processing throughout the year and front-end processing methods that will maximize sugar yields and minimize costs.

The NDSU trial plot research is sponsored by Betaseed and Syngenta-Hilleshog.
Additional project funding is provided by the North Dakota Renewable Energy Council, North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission, private companies and many communities.

More information on NDSU energy beet research is available at http://www.beetsallbiofuel.com/.