Early freezes in October greatly damaged the sugar beet and bean crops before they were harvested this year — so much so that local and state officials are asking the U.S. Department of …
Early freezes in October greatly damaged the sugar beet and bean crops before they were harvested this year — so much so that local and state officials are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to officially declare the poor weather a disaster.
Lawmakers across the Big Horn Basin coordinated to communicate the problem to Gov. Mark Gordon, who requested assistance from the USDA for impacted farmers on Thursday.
“I am writing to you today on behalf of Wyoming producers who are facing extraordinary losses due to unseasonably early and powerful snowstorms,” Gordon wrote, specifically mentioning sugar beet losses.
Last month, Western Sugar Cooperative officially declared it wouldn’t accept the remaining unharvested beets in the Lovell Factory District. This left somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of this area’s beet crop rotting in the ground.
“It’s pretty devastating,” said Jeremiah Vardiman, agriculture and horticulture extension educator with the University of Wyoming’s Park County Extension office.
He said it’s certainly an abnormal year and the worst in the five years he’s been working in the area.
“It’s definitely a bad situation when you can drive around and see so many beets still in the fields,” Vardiman said.
State Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, worked on possible approaches to get some assistance to the farmers impacted by the weather.
According to a letter sent to Gordon last month, which Kost signed, estimations are that approximately 5,000 acres of beets and 1,000 acres of beans were lost to the freeze. The Western Sugar Cooperative factory in Lovell typically runs through February but is projected to finish processing beets by the end of this month, the letter notes.
For those beets that were harvested, the pay per ton is low this year, reflecting the frost damage, which lowers the sugar concentration in the produce. No official figures are available — representatives of Western Sugar Cooperative did not return requests for comment — but the letter cites anecdotal figures of between $22 and $30 per ton; anything below $36 per ton is about where farmers begin to lose money on their crops.
Included in the letter to the governor are photos of unharvested fields and the frost inside sliced beets, which helped illustrate the damage. All the photos come from fields within a 5-mile radius.
The letter didn’t specify what assistance the governor should pursue, but warned that low-interest loans will not help farmers who are already struggling with razor-thin margins.
In his Thursday letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Gordon requested a secretarial disaster designation in Park, Big Horn, Laramie and Goshen counties.
The letter states that the fall of 2019 brought uncommonly low temperatures on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, which was followed by a second storm on Oct. 13 and Oct. 14. Warmer temperatures separated the freezes, with the thaw and freezing combining to exacerbate the damage to the crops.
“Producers did everything they could to maximize their harvest, but the damage from these storms has been severe,” Gordon wrote.
The disaster designation is necessary for farmers in those counties to be eligible for monetary assistance for their losses through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Plus program. The governor expressed his gratitude for the Farm Service Agency county committees’ efforts to pursue assistance through the WHIP+ program.
The program provides assistance to eligible producers who suffered losses to crops. The payments to the farmer are based on several factors, including the expected value of the crop and the level of insurance coverage the farmer elected to buy. However, uninsured farmers can be eligible for payments as well.
How long it takes the USDA to make a disaster declaration depends on a number of factors, including how quickly documents are submitted and how quickly the agency reviews them. In order for the declaration to be declared, the counties must demonstrate a 30 percent loss. The Park County FSA, based in Powell, is currently in the process of getting that documentation.