In the aftermath of a frozen harvest that locked in the ground up to a third of the local sugar beet crop, there’s increasing hope for some federal disaster relief to beet growers through the …
In the aftermath of a frozen harvest that locked in the ground up to a third of the local sugar beet crop, there’s increasing hope for some federal disaster relief to beet growers through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Western Sugar Cooperative — and growers for other impacted sugar beet cooperatives in the Midwest— have qualified for assistance from the USDA through the Wildfire and Hurricane Disaster Indemnity Program (WHIP).
Specifics are yet to be worked out. Federal assistance could be a mixture of grants and low interest loans, said Heart Mountain grower Ric Rodriguez, vice chairman of the Western Sugar Cooperative board.
Meetings in Washington, D.C. between cooperative leaders and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency will occur soon.
In December, key provisions were added to WHIP through the appropriations process that will allow for losses to be calculated and payments to be made at the cooperative level. Amendments were signed into law by President Donald Trump on the Friday before Christmas.
The 2019 sugar beet harvest “will go down as one of the toughest that growers have been through in years,” Rodriguez said.
“Our cooperative was not alone in this disastrous harvest,” he added, pointing out that sugar beet cooperatives in North Dakota and Minnesota also left unharvested crops in the fields at a much higher percentage than the Western Sugar Cooperative.
In the four-state Western Sugar Cooperative, growers in Wyoming and Montana were shut down with the most beets still in the ground. Nebraska and Colorado growers were able to harvest almost all of their beets, but the freezing weather caused damage to quality.
In December, Gov. Mark Gordon sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, requesting a disaster declaration for Park, Big Horn, Laramie, Goshen, and Platte counties.
Since the crop losses were related to snowstorms, the declaration is not required for eligability in the WHIP program, but it will make farmers in those counties eligible for low interest loans.
Todd Even, program chief at the Wyoming Farm Service Agency said most farmers have insurance.
“Those farmers that do have losses, we encourage them to report those losses” to the Risk Management Agency, which oversees federal crop insurance, he said.
Even added that counties are gathering data on the losses, which needs to be submitted to the USDA before the declaration is made. He also noted there’s no timeline for the USDA to respond to the request, so there’s no way to know when, if at all, the declaration will be made.
Growers in all four states, who had insurance on their beet crops, have received those payments already. Western Sugar Cooperative made the initial payment in November for the harvested beets and plans to make additional payments on those beets in the near future.
Under the WHIP relief, growers who managed to harvest their beets may receive some quality adjustment.
The annual meeting of the Western Sugar Cooperative is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 23, in Loveland, Colorado, where further information on the WHIP program and relief provisions may be available. The meeting rotates between northern and southern growing regions each year.
State assists growers with deferred payment
An optional loan payment holiday has been approved by the Wyoming Business Council board for some Western Sugar Cooperative sugar beet growers in the Lovell Factory District who suffered crop losses in the frozen harvest of 2019.
About a third of the area crop was frozen in the ground in October and November and went unharvested, hitting beet growers hard.
“This is a piece of good news for the growers in the Lovell area,” said coop beet board vice chairman Ric Rodriguez of Powell. “It’s just another way the Business Council and the State of Wyoming have stepped up to help our state’s farmers.”
Rodriguez recalled in 2017, following a bad 2016 production year, disaster assistance for beet growers was extended by the Wyoming Business Council in the form of low interest loans.
“I had asked, with the help of local state legislators Dan Laursen and David Northrup, for some relief for the beet growers who took loans, in the form of a payment holiday for payments coming due in 2020, some as early as Jan. 1, 2020,” Rodriguez said. The Business Council approved the request during a special meeting last week.
It gives growers the option to delay the payment for one year, Rodriguez said. It will entail a small adjustment to the loan.