My first sugar beet harvest

Amanda Radke

I just finished completing a four-day trip speaking at three events in three separate states. 

My first stop was Deadwood, South Dakota for the South Dakota women in ag conference. On stage, I spoke about the importance of sharing our stories and I explained how I’ve read the children’s books I’ve penned in schools and libraries spanning from Los Angeles to New York City and everywhere in between.

My six-year-old son, Thorne, helped me during my presentation to prepare the beef jerky trail mix recipe that is included in the back of my sports nutrition book, “BEEF Strong.” The ladies in attendance loved the protein rich snack and there was fun had by all.

Our road trip across the northern plains took us next to Sidney, Montana where I spoke at the first annual Farm Bureau farm fest. It was a great celebration of agriculture, family, food and farming. The evening concluded with live music from the band “Time in the Saddle,” and my son took his mama two-stepping!

Finally, we headed to North Dakota where I was speaking at a man march, an event honoring and encouraging masculine men of God. It was a change of pace from my normal schedule of agricultural events, but I felt very blessed that my son was able to spend so much time with some amazing role models. 

Our friend, Marty, even took Thorne raccoon hunting while in North Dakota and I tagged along for the late-night adventure! It’s safe to say I’ve officially achieved cool mom status!

During this little round-trip tour, one of the highlights for me was experiencing our first sugar beet harvest in Montana. The tractors were busy in the field and the trucks were moving. The elevator and processing plant were humming with the hustle and bustle of hard-working farmers bringing in their crop.

Now, I’m a cattle girl at heart and it’s safe to say this was a very new agricultural experience that I hadn’t been exposed to before. My friend, Vanessa, connect us with a local producer who let us ride in the tractor to see the sugar beet harvest up close and personal. 

While riding in the buddy seat, farmer Ryan explained to us that very little of the sugar beet goes to waste as pulp and molasses become feed for livestock. I learned that a South Dakota company uses the molasses produced right there in Montana for the lick tubs my family uses on our cattle ranch!

I loved learning about how these different commodities come together and I thought to myself that this is another great example about how cattle can upcycle crop residues and convert it into nutritious beef and life enriching byproducts!

So, what else did we learn in the sugar beet field? 

Did you know one of these two-pound sugar beets produces just three tablespoons of sugar?

We also learned that sugar is formed during photosynthesis and stored in the root.  Each root contains approximately 75% water, 20% sugar and 5% pulp.

The sugar from sugar beets was first extracted in 1811 by the French chemist, Jean-Baptiste Quéruel. Napoleon I had encouraged this research following a blockade of the British navy that cut the French Empire and Europe off from sugarcane resources from the Caribbean.

Sugar is stored in the root of the plant. Its concentrated juice forms a syrup which is purified and filtered with a sugar content of 65%. It is then boiled under vacuum to be crystallized. The sugar from sugar beet is naturally white.

The farm tour was incredibly interesting and it was a reminder to me that we can never quit learning and seeking to gain new information and knowledge. It’s also a reminder that we can’t expect our consumers to know exactly what we are doing out in the fields or pastures. It’s what we do every single day so we take these things for granted, but for consumers with a fresh pair of eyes and an eagerness to learn, providing them with a glimpse into our world is a great way to build connections and support for agriculture. 

Amanda Radke is a South Dakota rancher, a writer, and motivational speaker, specializing in the beef industry, social media and consumer trends. Contact her at