Health conscious consumers are driving demand for innovative, convenient products. Sarah Pethybridge and Julie Kikkert are helping NY farmers overcome production challenges to meet market demand so consumers can Eat Their Beets!
New York is second only to Wisconsin in the production of table beets. The processing industry, based largely around Seneca Foods plant in Western New York, is valued at $1.8 million, and the farm gate value of the beets grown by 246 farms across the state is estimated at $8.47 million.
At Farm Viability, we believe we’ve had a role in the exponential growth of New York table beets since 2014. In fact, we often tell this story in our grant writing webinar for potential applicants.
In 2015 Cornell Plant Pathologist Sarah Pethybridge and a Senior Extension Educator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Program and her colleague Julie Kikkert submitted a proposal to the Farm Viability Institute to develop solutions to manage weeds and disease in beets. Funding was denied.
Although it was a strong research plan and addressed known challenges for beet growers, it was a high dollar request and there just weren’t many acres of beets being grown. In addition, there was limited infrastructure for processing.
Three months later, Pethybridge and Kikkert successfully sought funding through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBG) which is administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets in partnership with NYFVI.
The difference with the second proposal? It included the news that Governor Cuomo had announced that Love Beets USA LLC, a joint venture between LiDestri Foods Inc of Fairport and the United Kingdom’s G’s Fresh Ltd, was coming to Rochester.
Ever since that first proposal was funded Pethybridge and Kikkert have been systematically working to develop solutions for the booming industry’s most pressing challenges.
The first project focusing on weed management and Cercospora leaf spot the predominant fungal disease affecting foliar health was completed this year. It optimized recommendations for weed and disease management in both conventional and organic production systems. Healthy foliage is essential at the end of the season with minimal competition from weeds to enable mechanized harvest.
Three New York growers participated as an advisory group for the project. 603 people attended presentations on the topic. Outcomes for the NY table beet industry include reductions in unwarranted fungicide usage, development of best practice fungicide resistance management guidelines, and improved profitability and sustainability.
“The objective of my program is to identify concerns from New York table beet growers and industry stakeholders and conduct high quality research and extension to ensure the outcomes directly transition into improved profitability and sustainability. This mission directly aligns with that of the New York Farm Viability Institute and we are pleased to be able to partner with them to achieve improved resilience of New York rural communities.”
Sarah Pethybridge, CCE Vegetable Program
In 2017, the team was successful in securing SCBG funding to trial novel seed treatments for early season disease control, and in 2018 they made the case for funding to develop a forecasting system for foliar leaf disease to help growers make judicious use of their fungicides.
The future remains promising for New York beet growers as Love Beets USA reports they are here for the long term. As reported on the Empire State Development website:
“We still haven’t tapped the full potential for this processing plant yet, its capacity, and our people,” says Stoklosa, Love Beets USA Managing Director.
“When we built this plant, we built it for four times the lines that we currently have in it, so the strategy is to be able to make products here in Rochester for distribution to the entire North American landscape, and not need to have another facility.”