July 7, 2006
Charlie Rush is using knowledge gained in the sugar beet fields
of the Panhandle to help the Republic of Azerbaijan, formerly a
part of the Soviet Union, build economic stability.
Rush is a plant pathologist with the
Texas Agricultural Experiment
Station in Amarillo. While the sugar beet fields have
disappeared across the Panhandle, he still helps other regions
of the U.S. find solutions to sugar beet disease and pathogenic
Now, he is taking his expertise overseas.
Azerbaijan recently built an oil pipeline from the capital Baku
to the Turkey border and they are realizing increasing oil
revenues, he said. The government is trying to use some of that
money to improve the infrastructure and job market in the
country outside of the capital city.
The primary source of income and jobs outside the city is
through farming, Rush said. Cotton and sugar beets are both
high-value crops to the region.
The first sugar beet processing factory, Azersun Sugar in
Imisli, has been built and processed the first crop of a few
1,000 acres of beets this year, he said.
But there are still many issues related to harvesting and
getting large amounts of beets to the factory. For instance,
many beets are grown on five-acre plots watered by a series of
hand-dug trenches and are hand harvested, he said.
Rush's trip to Azerbaijan was at the request of Valmont, a
Nebraska company which produces Valley center-pivot irrigation
systems. Valmont is establishing a pilot project on cotton and
"Basically, I think the Azerbaijanis just need someone with
experience with sugar beets," Rush said. "They are so new at
this, they really don't know what they need. Before, they had
cooperative farms and someone in Moscow would write out the
specs and the growers would follow them."
Now they need someone to work with them and help them begin
research on their own, he said. This includes variety trials,
seeding rates and spacing considerations.
Valmont helped set up the first center-pivot sugar beet pilot
project near Beylagan while Rush was there. They hope this
automated irrigation will help expand the acreage.
Because the seasons are slightly milder than those in the
Panhandle, Rush said the Azerbaijanis may be able to plant two
crops per year and keep the factory running all year long.
Rush is not the only Panhandle presence involved with this
irrigation project. Jerry Clement of Dumas, a farmer and former
sugar beet grower, is working with Valmont to help the company
establish a presence in Azerbaijan.
Valmont has 10 irrigation systems set up for cotton and one for
sugar beets. Clements helped set up the irrigation systems and
will help advise the farmers on the farming practices they use.
The pivot for sugar beets is about a half mile long, Rush said.
It was set up to help demonstrate how beets can be grown on a
The hand-dug ditch canals currently used create problems with
uneven stands and weed control, he said. Those are the types of
issues Rush believes he can help them with most.
He hopes that some of the country's farming leaders can be
brought to the U.S. to visit the beet-growing regions and see
everything from winter beets in California to harvest in
Sugar beet research still comprises 60 percent of Rush's
research efforts. Many of the diseases he first looked at in the
Panhandle are now problems in other sugar beet-growing regions.
He receives funding from the Minnesota and North Dakota Research
and Education Board, and the Beet Sugar Development Foundation
out of Denver, Colorado.
"Pathology is my expertise," Rush said. "But I have a good
general understanding of the whole operation."