Farmers produced tons of beets, but the crop is light on sugar
BY GIB MATHERS
Tribune Staff Writer
There are plenty of sugar beets out there, but the news isn’t as sweet as it could be for area growers.
While the tonnage is good, the sugar content in beets is thin this year, according to farmers. To add to the woes, it is an onerous task pulling the roots from the muddy ground after a soggy fall.
Beets are averaging 25 to 30 tons per acre, but the sugar content is a below normal. The factory average is around 14 percent, according to Ric Rodriguez, vice chairman of the Western Sugar Cooperative and a rural Powell farmer.
With Roundup Ready beets and improved technology, production is escalating. “The yields are getting better and better,” Rodriguez said.
Keith Murray of Murraymere Farms in Willwood, said his beets are running 13 and 14 percent sugar content, but in one field the beets were 11 percent sugar content. Average sugar content around these parts is 15 to 18 percent, Murray said.
Although Rodriguez, who farms below Heart Mountain, doesn’t know the exact proportion, he has been told beet sugar content is down across the United States.
His theory, at least around here, is the beets needed another 10 to 20 days of growing to raise sugar content. “Who knows,” Rodriguez said. “It’s anybody’s guess.”
Following the hail in late July, growers feared hail-damaged beet tops would draw sugar from their roots to repair damage to leaves.
The recent precipitation is upping tons per acre because the beets absorb the water, but the water dilutes sugar content. Farmers must get the beets out of the ground before the cold sets in.
“The closer you get to November the riskier it gets,” Rodriguez said.
Beet sugar content does not improve if the tops are allowed to freeze. If they freeze, the tops will consume the sugar in the beets to grow.
At beet dumps, beets will steam on cold days because those beets are consuming their sugar to stay alive, Rodriguez said.
It’s still unclear how much famers will make from this year’s crop. They have already sold their beets to Western Sugar, but the coop must market the sugar before those coop members are paid.
The last couple years, beets have been fetching $60 to $70 per ton, but coop members won’t know what the final price is until Western Sugar sells all the product it processes from the beets, Rodriguez said. That will take a year, he said.
Murray figures beets will probably fetch $35 to $40 per ton, but that depends on the price of sugar.
“Thank God for the high tonnage, it helps,” Rodriguez said.
Because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the amount of sugar Mexico exports to the United States is unconstrained, causing a glut in the market. Now Mexico is using high fructose corn syrup for its soft drink production so it is exporting more sugar to this country, Rodriguez said.
He hates the low prices and doesn’t know when the price of sugar will climb. “The market is the market,” Rodriguez said.
Corn, sunflowers and mud
Murray is waiting for his corn to dry before he combines it in November to use primarily for stock feed, he said.
Lately corn has brought $6 or more per bushel. Last year his yield was 200 bushels per acre. His corn is looking good, but the snow the first week of October knocked down some of it, Murray said.
Under contract he will get 32 cents per pound for sunflowers, but he won’t know what the yield will be until he combines the sunflowers that also took a hit from the snow.
Farmers around here diversify so if one crop brings a low price or production is poor, other crops will keep him/her afloat. This year bean and sunflower prices are OK, Rodriguez said.
He is hoping for a long and warm autumn to get his crops in. So far that hasn’t been the case with muddy fields drenched with precipitation.
“It’s been a real trying fall,” Murray said.