It’s too early to know the extent of the damage that three days and nights of freezing temperatures dealt to the area’s sugar beet crop a week ago.
But a warm, dry weekend was welcomed by Western Sugar Cooperative and its growers as necessary to aid recovery; a first concern was to dry out the wet fields that have prevented some growers from harvesting.
Snow blanketed the area Wednesday and shut down the sugar beet harvest. For three nights, temperatures registered from 12 to 16 degrees in areas of the Lovell Factory District.
“The freezing temperatures were bad. The beets have some damage,” said Ric Rodriguez, Heart Mountain grower and vice president of the Western Sugar Cooperative board of directors. “It will take a few days to assess the damage, meaning how long the beets will store.”
In the meantime, special handling of freeze-damaged beets has been implemented.
“We’re processing frozen beets first,” said Mark Bjornestad, senior agriculturist for Western Sugar. “We’ll leave other beets [harvested before the freeze] on the ground. They’ll be fine.”
In order to run the factory on freeze-damaged beets, a quota system on grower deliveries is required.
The quota system is still being established, Rodriguez said, but it will basically be on a ton-per-acre basis.
“If it is determined that the quota is 2 tons per planted acre, and the grower has 100 acres, he can bring in 200 tons during the delivery period,” Rodriguez said. “It will be reassessed every week, and it depends on how well the factory is running.”
“Every grower is treated the same percentage-wise,” Bjornestad added. “We need a few days to see how these frozen beets react.”
Beet tops still in the fields after the frost pose an additional difficulty; the frozen leaves are ragged and slimy.
“We’ve got to get them off,” said Rodriguez. “They foul things up in the factory.”
Growers need to do the best they can in delivering clean, mud-free and top-free loads, he advised.
“Tops and mud will only slow the factory down, which will affect the amount of quota given,” he said.