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October 21, 2008 3:02 am

Beet growers continue harvest in soggy fields

Written by Tribune Staff

Fields in the Powell area continued to dry out from early October snow and rain that halted the sugar beet harvest.

Sugar content measured more than 17 percent as the Big Horn Basin sugar beet harvest resumed last week.

But up to 2 feet of snow, followed in some areas by a quarter-inch of rain, has kept some growers out of the field for more than a week.

Heart Mountain grower Paul Rodriguez said his family harvested some of their 1,365 acres before the Oct. 10 snowstorm began.

Rodriguez, who's farmed on Heart Mountain for 50 years, called it the “worst storm I've seen this time of year.” Some of the family fields got 2 feet of snow.

On Wednesday night, one-fourth inch of rain fell. By Friday, some of the Rodriguez fields still had more than a foot of snow covering the sugar beets, he said. Some 3-foot drifts remained.

“We got dumped on,” he said, while the Eagle Nest and Sand Coulee areas bordering to the north and south received much less snow.

Rodriguez hoped to start digging beets Monday. Even then, he predicted, it would be a fight against mud, which is “hard on equipment and hard on nerves.”

“We just pray that we'll have two weeks of good weather,” he said. National Weather Service forecasts for this week include the possibility of rain showers.

Randall Jobman, agriculture supervisor with Western Sugar Cooperative in Billings, said last week that Heart Mountain received more snow than Powell, and Lovell received even less. The harvest was 35 percent complete mid-week, he said, and two receiving stations were open, Starr and the Lovell factory.

He said sugar content measured 17.66 percent. It was too early to estimate yield, he said, although sugar officials expect above-average yield.

Receiving stations will operate as much as possible to get the crop in, Jobman said. If growers can work the fields, they'll be ready.

“Any day it's good, we're going to work,” he said. “If they can go, we're open.”

No frozen beets had come in, although the nights of 24 degrees had probably bitten them, he said.

Jobman estimated 90 percent of this year's crop is Roundup Ready beets, genetically designed to resist glyphosate, the ingredient in the Monsanto herbicide Roundup.

“For the most part, the crop is weed free and it appears to be very healthy,” Jobman said.