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RYAN BAKKEN: An epic find in the beet fields

You've seen intersections littered with spilled sugar beets, the result of truck drivers perhaps going too fast while negotiating a turn. Thankfully, an intersection wasn't the landing place for a certain sugar beet grown by Stroble Farms of Angu...

Ryan Bakken
Ryan Bakken

You've seen intersections littered with spilled sugar beets, the result of truck drivers perhaps going too fast while negotiating a turn.

Thankfully, an intersection wasn't the landing place for a certain sugar beet grown by Stroble Farms of Angus in Polk County. Contact with the beet could have heavily damaged your Honda Civic. Or your Expedition. Or your Panzer tank.

That's because the beet in question weighs 31.8 pounds, about the same weight as two men's bowling balls or Ed Schultz' ego.

Instead, this epic beet has landed on display at the Irishman's Shanty, a Crookston restaurant that has held the Big Beet contest for an estimated 20 years. It's the leader as the campaign winds down. The winner receives a dinner for two at the restaurant.

And, there's a bigger reward:

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"Beet bragging rights for a year," Ashley Stroble said.

Those bragging rights are bigger than ever. It is the biggest beet ever submitted, Irishman's Shanty owner Paul Gregg said. Most winners have been in the mid-20s.

Ashley said the beet was discovered when husband Damon and hired hand Jason Steer were lifting beets in a field two miles east of Warren, Minn. "The harvester plugged and Jason thought he had picked up a rock," she said. "He got out the flashlights and couldn't believe the size of the beet."

Ashley said the beet originally was even heavier than 31.8 pounds because the equipment that removes the beet tops also took part of the beet protruding from the soil.

The vast majority of beets weigh between 1.5 and 5 pounds, said Al Cattanach, American Crystal Sugar's head agronomist. Having worked 23 years in beet research at two universities and the last 17 for ACS, he knows his stuff.

Al isn't accusing anyone of shenanigans, but he's skeptical that the beet did this by itself and Mother Nature.

"Our rows are only 2 feet apart and the beets are 6 to 8 inches apart, so there are a lot of neighbors sharing the soil nutrients, soil water and the sun," he said. "You do not get 20- and 30-pound beets with close neighbors. Beets are greedy buggers."

He conceded that beets at the end of rows, without much fellow plant competition, can become 10-pounders.

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Cattanach said the company factory in Sidney, Mont., has an annual beet contest, with last year's winner weighing in at 30-plus pounds.

"Some of the guys there have told me that they use a little extra fertilizer and some Miracle-Gro and give them special attention, almost like a garden," he said. "I would not be surprised if this beet got some TLC."

Another possibility, Cattanach said, is that it's a fodder beet, a bigger variety that is grown in Europe for livestock feed.

The Strobles speculated that perhaps the monstrous beet was a product of several seeds growing together.

"I'd rule that out," Cattanach said.

So, the big beet is more than a big beet. It's a big mystery.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

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Ashley Stroble with beet
Submitted photo

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