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Digging ‘em early

Huge beet crop spells early start

In the first week of September, sugar beets were already flying out of the ground in an earlier-than-usual opening to the fall harvest in Western Sugar Company’s Lovell factory district.

By every measure, that’s a good thing.



The equation is straight-forward. The bigger the sugar beet crop, the longer it takes to process at the factory.

“The bottom line is our samples indicate a good enough crop that if we want to be done in February, we have to get started now,” said Mark Bjornestad of Powell, Western Sugar fieldman in this area.

Western Sugar is forecasting a beet crop that averages “somewhere in the area of 30 tons to the acre,” Bjornestad said. The district’s  2011 sugar beet crop came in at 29 tons to the acre.

Area growers have again planted about 17,000 acres of sugar beets.

Company officials plan their factory processing campaign around a target completion date of next Feb. 10.  They need to have the beets inputted through the factory by that time because weather in February and March is too unpredictable to have beets in storage on the ground.

By that timetable, and with the reality of a sizeable crop in the ground, Western scheduled growers to begin digging beets on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

It’s one of the earliest starts in memory. Two years ago, the early dig of sugar beets began on Sept. 7.

Growers will share in the early delivery of the crop to enable the slicing and processing to begin at the factory. Beets continue to grow into the fall and take on additional sugar content with colder temperatures.

Bjornestad said contracted growers are assigned to deliver 5.5 tons of beets to the planted acre within the month of September. To make things as fair as possible, individual growers are scheduled with some earlier and some later deliveries.

Western Sugar will pay a premium for the early beets above the incremental pay scale which is based on tonnage and sugar content. The premium is established on a per day basis the greater the number of days of delivery are away from the start of the Oct. 2 regular harvest.

Warm temperatures can be a problem for beets on the ground in this early fall period. Western Sugar will open and close receiving stations as needed for the early deliveries. The company will manage deliveries so that beets are piled no longer than three days in the warm weather to minimize storage losses.

Western Sugar is projecting average sugar content for the 2012 crop at 18 percent.

Deregulation of Roundup Ready beets brings relief to growers


Special to the Tribune

With the regular sugar beet harvest about to begin, growers are happy that regulations on handling of Roundup Ready beets have eased somewhat with the federal deregulation of the crop. Growers had been operating under interim regulations that required them to comply with several requirements, including policing fields for plants that could bolt and produce seed, shipping Roundup Ready seed in sealed containers, picking up any beets that spilled from trucks along roadways and reporting any problems to beet company agriculturalists.

Glen Reed, a Cody area sugar beet grower and president of the Big Horn Basin Sugar Beet Growers Association, said the ruling earlier this summer was a relief.

“We don’t have that hanging over our heads that they could take the crop away from us,” he said. “We’re happy with how it’s progressing so far.”

Beet growers still have to monitor their fields and destroy any “bolters,” he said.

Deregulating the crop is “definitely a step in the right direction,” Reed said. The deregulation is the latest step in a federal lawsuit filed in 2007 against the U.S. Department of Agriculture of its approval of planting genetically altered sugar beets. Nearly all sugar beets are genetically engineered and the crop accounts for half the U.S. sugar supply. Roundup Ready sugar beets were developed to resist glyphosate, the ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s herbicide Roundup. Growers can treat Roundup Ready fields with Roundup, killing weeds without killing the sugar beet plants.

Organic farmers fear the biotech beets will cross-pollinate with conventional beets, as well as Swiss chard, and upset consumers who shun genetically engineered products. Beets grown in Wyoming to produce sugar do not bloom or produce seed before they are harvested in their first year of growth.

Sugar beets are a biennial crop. Sugar beets are grown on about 1 million acres in 10 states, including Wyoming and Montana.

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