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Cover Crop Options for Pre-Pile Sugarbeet (08/27/20)

Sugarbeet pre-pile harvest is in full operation in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Sugarbeet pre-pile harvest is in full operation in Minnesota and North Dakota. An early harvest provides an excellent opportunity to plant a cover crop in sugarbeet fields. Cover crops can make a big impact in several ways, even if pre-pile harvest acres represent only a small portion of the whole field. First, headlands usually will have compacted soils in serious need of remediation. Headlands are a great location to incorporate a large-rooted brassica like radishes, rapeseed, or turnips to loosen the soil. (Be careful to select a radish variety like Defender, Image, or Colonel, which act as trap crops, not as hosts, for sugarbeet cyst nematode.) Second, early harvested strips planted to cover crops act as a windbreak over the winter, slowing wind speeds and reducing soil erosion. In this case, including cereal rye, or another overwintering species in the cover crop mix will provide coverage until the following spring.

You can broadcast cover crop seed in pre-pile acres using a spinner-spreader or air seeder ahead of the defoliator, and the beet harvest process can effectively incorporate the seed. After pre-pile harvest, you can either broadcast with light incorporation for best germination or drill the seed. Note that seeding rates are about 50% higher for broadcast, non-incorporated seed than for drilled, or incorporated seed.

Develop a plan for terminating over-wintered cover crops in 2021. Assess the cover crop and soil early in the season to determine what spring tillage, if any, may be needed to prepare the seed bed. If your next crop is corn, plan to terminate cereal rye or other grasses at least 10 days before corn planting. A full rate of glyphosate is reliably effective. In contrast, soybeans can usually tolerate a shorter window between cover crop termination and planting, and producers have been ‘planting green’ into living grass cover crops. If ‘planting green’, be ready to terminate shortly after soybean planting, and follow USDA-NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines to ensure compliance with crop insurance standards, which vary by region.

A shorter window between cover crop termination and planting or termination after planting helps maximize cover crop biomass production and therefore residue coverage and weed suppression in your cash crop. However, this practice increases the risk of disease or insect pest issues in the cash crop and the potential for cash crop yield loss if the cover crop is not successfully terminated in a timely manner.


Anna Cates

State Soil Health Specialist

U of MN


Tom Peters

Extension Sugarbeet Agronomist

NDSU & U of MN



Liz Stahl

Extension Educator-Crops

U of MN


Jodi DeJong-Hughes

Extension Educator-Water Resources

U of MN


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