Sugar beets and environmental stewardship

Sep 24, 2020

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Ongoing research is looking at how sugar beet farmers can lessen their impact on the environment.
 
During an average year, 28,000 acres of sugar beets are grown in southern Alberta, producing more than 800,000 tonnes of beets. Those harvested beets are hauled to 7 receiving stations in the area, known as piling grounds, where trucks can wait for up to 3 hours to unload their sweet cargo. This wait is one of the reasons that the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers (ASBG) decided to look at the impact of the sugar beet growing and harvesting process on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.
 
‘We know that farmers do a lot around environment stewardship, and we are looking at ways to mitigate our impacts on the environment,’ explains Melody Garner-Skiba, executive director of ASBG. ‘For us, this project and its phases are really meant to help us look at our environmental impact, from the field to where we turn it over to the processor, and see how we can do better. And then, let the public know that we don’t rest on our laurels - we’re always trying to do better.’
 
Phase one of the research project, Reducing the Impact of Sugar Beet Production and Irrigation on Climate Change, began in the fall of 2018 during sugar beet harvest. Researchers assessed and collected data from the traffic at the piling grounds. The assessment’s objectives were to identify ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fuel and energy consumption.
 
This year, researchers wrapped up 2 years of collecting data and monitoring 9 participating farms. They looked at their green house gas emissions and climate change impacts, including water usage, from an irrigation angle during the growing season. During this phase of the project, Alberta Canola and Alberta Potato Growers were brought in as partners.
 
‘Sugar beets don’t grow in isolation. We are a rotation crop, and we only grow one in 4 years,’ explains Garner-Skiba. ‘We thought it was important to also bring those other rotational crops in on this project because they will have an impact as well. Probably 30% of Alberta sugar beet growers, if not 40%, also grow potatoes. If they’re not growing potatoes, they’re growing canola or they’re growing pulses. We’re all very interconnected.’
 
The project now moves into its next phases, where the team will develop best management practices and recommendations from the assessments and data collection completed earlier. From there the project will move to implementation of recommendations and extension work with sugar beet farmers.
 
Garner-Skiba has found that farmers are very curious to see the results, hear about potential solutions and how those can be implemented.
 
‘If we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from trucks idling or waiting to drop their sugar beets at receiving stations, that also equates to better profitability because we are being more efficient,’ she adds.
 
Funding for this project was provided by the Governments of Canada and Alberta through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership under the Environmental Stewardship and Climate Change - Group Program. In Alberta, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership represents a federal-provincial investment of $406 million in strategic programs and initiatives for the agricultural sector.
Source : alberta.ca