April 22 02:46 AM

Roots of romance in our beet fields

Pile em high...our beets get loaded onto Jay Parrs truck last Saturday. photo by Maria Brown.

September 15, 2010
Although we've been growing sugar beets for the last five years, it's still so least to me.

Maybe because it's so different than all the other crops we grow. A world of tons (not bushels) tare dirt, Ferris wheels, toppers and lots of team work.

It's brash and bold compared to corn and beans. I can still recall the sensory overload that first fall I rode along in a beet hauling truck.

It's 11 at night, the field is greasy and the semi is being dragged through the dirt by a Steiger with a rope that's thicker than me. Lights from the tractor pulling the harvester are bright. Multiple engines are roaring while football-sized beets tumble into the trailer, the sound rivaling any hailstorm I've known. On top of it all, the radio is constantly squawking as all three drivers try to maneuver in the dark. Every now and then, you spot another tractor, pulling the topper, a few rows over.

Now, not all digging days are like that, but after that kind of excitement, watching a combine gobble up beans is rather dull.

Beside those extraordinary conditions, harvesting beets is quite a social activity. Most growers work in groups, with one harvester between them and everyone provides a truck or two. Once one farm is harvested, the whole team moves onto the next field. Considering most field work is pretty solitary, it's a nice change of pace.

Last year, the June rains drowned out our 38 acres on the muck. This season, it was

an early and healthy crop from the same field. Last week, we harvested it with hardly a hitch. The 'team' has since moved on to Brown City where they're making good progress at the Shoemaker and Parr farms.

Maybe the allure I find in beets has more 'romantic' roots. My engagement ring was bought with a beet hauling check almost seven years ago. Yes, it certainly is a 'sweet' ring!

Even off the field, sugarbeets are good for some drama. A federal judge just instituted a planting ban on all Round-Up Ready beet seed until

the government completes additional environmental studies. Considering 95 percent of this year's crop was planted with biotech seed, seed shortages come spring will be just one of many problems we'll be dealing with next year. The food industry will be greatly impacted too. Growing beets, like a lot of other crops and business ventures, is challenging yet there's something about the struggle that can be extremely satisfying. I wish I could describe it with more clarity...but until then, here's hoping we can do it all over again this spring.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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