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May 06, 2010 3:51 am

Sugar beet growers face prospect of frozen crop ¬ó again

Written by Tribune Staff

With the sting of last fall's frozen sugar beet crop still vivid, Big Horn Basin growers have already lost part of this year's crop to severe spring weather, although some fields may be replanted.

“I don't like this spring,” Heart Mountain sugar beet grower Ric Rodriguez said Wednesday. “I hope it's not a preamble to the fall.”

By mid-week, Rodriguez had lost part of his newly planted sugar beets to a combination of moisture, below-freezing temperatures and gale winds that burned emerging seedlings with blowing topsoil from adjacent bean and hay fields being prepped for planting.
The extent of the damage isn't clear, Rodriguez said.

“We'll know by this weekend, I'm sure,” he said. “We can't afford to lose any more stand.” If he does, he'll have to replant by about May 20 to meet crop insurance deadlines. It's frustrating because it's a repeat of last spring's difficult planting conditions. Based on last year, he delayed planting and irrigating his sugar beets by about 10 days and might set it back even further next year. But replanting is no sure cure, partly because Roundup Ready beet seed is in short supply and there's no guarantee the weather will settle by then.

“I carried over some conventional seed. I hate to go back to planting that stuff,” he said.

The University of Wyoming Powell Research and Extension Center just north of town on Road 9 recorded an overnight low of 24 degrees on Wednesday morning. Rodriguez said it wasn't that cold at his place, but “it still froze a little.”

That compounded damage caused Monday night and Tuesday morning by rain that turned to snow and then froze overnight, he said. The beets he lost to that round of bad weather were just below the surface, what growers call “in the crust,” he said. Now he expects to lose more.

“I know there's some that aren't going to make it,” Rodriguez said.

The National Weather Service on Wednesday predicted overnight lows Thursday night to Friday at 21 degrees with a 100-percent chance of snow.

“That's too cold,” Rodriguez said.

On the Willwood, Keith Murray said it got down to 29 degrees Tuesday night. He hadn't had time to check the beet crop yet, focusing instead on planting corn and preparing ground to plant dry beans.

“I'm more worried about tomorrow (Thursday) night now,” Murray said Wednesday. “If it gets that cold we'd be best off with several inches of snow. They also said it was going to blow,” which will drift the snow off the fields and leave seedlings exposed.

Murray's sick of the wind.

“It's been pretty hard on them,” he said of the beet fields. “I don't know if we have any burned or not.”

(Western Sugar Co-op spokesmen could not be reached as of press time Wednesday.)