In Michigan, the trend for narrowing row widths from the traditional 30-inch rows to 20- or 22-inch rows has been occurring since the early 1990s. Currently, about 25 percent of the beet acreage is in narrow rows. Sugarbeet production in most other beet production areas in the United States and Europe has been mainly narrow rows for years. The Europeans have taken it a step narrower and are significantly less than 20 inches. The Saginaw Valley producers that grow sugarbeets, dry beans, corn and soybeans can benefit from increased yields. Recent research conducted by Michigan Sugar Company, Sugarbeet Advancement and Michigan State University researchers all agree: narrow row beet production will increase yields and improve quality. Yield increases have been shown up to four tons per acre, with increases of one to three tons being common.
For sugarbeets, there is a direct relationship between the amount of sunlight leaves intercept and the amount of sugar produced. Narrow rows provide a quicker and more complete canopy, allowing the plant to manufacture more sugar. Yield and quality are both gained from narrow rows by increasing plant populations and optimizing beet size. In-row plant competition is reduced, which will minimize non-recoverable small beets (carrots). Additionally, narrow rows would reduce weed competition from straggling weeds that emerge after herbicide applications because of an increased or faster canopy.
As growers contemplate new equipment purchases, consideration should be given to switching to narrow rows. Yield increases of 10 to 15 percent are shown in dry beans, 10 to 12 bushels for corn, and soybean yields increase as row width decreases. Be aware purchasing a new planter with the same row width as your old planter will generally not increase yields. This also locks you in to the same row width for a number of years. Transitioning your equipment and tires to narrow rows is expensive, but will pay good dividends in the long run.