U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Agricultural Research Magazine 60(1): January 2012 pp. 18-19; ISSN 0002-161X


The whole point of growing sugar beets is to produce sugar. But once the beets are harvested and stored for processing—usually in huge piles that can weigh thousands of tons—they slowly start to decay, which lowers their sucrose levels.

Roots store sugar even more poorly if they originate from fields infested with the virus that causes rhizomania, a disease that also severely affects yield. Resistance genes in sugar beet help protect the plant from rhizomania, but some strains of the virus have evolved to overcome one of the resistance genes, Rz1.

“The economic loss from damage to stored beets is quite large," says plant pathologus Carl Strausbaugh, who works at the Agricultural Research Service’s Northwest Irrigation and Soils Research Laboratory in Kimberly, Idaho. “For instance, if we could figure out how to save even 1 percent of the sucrose in beets during storage, it could save producers in the Pacific Northwest $4 million every year.”