Western Sugar facility to transition to storage, shippingWritten by Emilee Gibb
Torrington – Western Sugar Cooperative officially announced their plans to cease processing sugarbeets at their facility in Torrington with the expansion of facilities Nebraska and Colorado.
The co-op will continue to store and package sugar in Torrington and will be maintaining approximately 22 positions in Torrington.
“The expansion of our Nebraska and Colorado facilities is really a key project for us to serve our customers and remain competitive,” says Western Sugar Cooperative Vice President and Director of Media Relations Heather Luther.
The current sugarbeet manufacturing facility in Torrington processes over 650,000 tons of sugarbeets per year, says Western Sugar Cooperative
Torrington Facility Manager Tom Briggs.
“We slice about 5,000 tons a day,” he explains.
The facility currently employs approximately 200 people, making it a significant contributor to the economy of Torrington.
Sugarbeets are received from a wide swath of the western region, including Wheatland, Wellington, Colo., Kimball, Neb. and Ogallala, Neb.
“We have lots of receiving stations. It’s a very big area,” continues Briggs.
The Torrington sugarbeet processing facility is scheduled to be scaled back as Western Sugar Cooperative expands their operations at facilities in Scottsbluff, Neb. and Fort Morgan, Colo. this season.
Layoffs are currently planned to occur sometime this year, says Luther.
However, many variables will influence when layoffs actually occur and the partial closure of the manufacturing facility.
“It’s still up in the air to see how the other two plants are running,” says Briggs.
The co-op will remain in Torrington, however, as they transition the manufacturing facility to a packaging and storage facility.
“When we looked at it, we decided that we could get some synergies by adding a packaging line there,” says Luther.
In recent years, Western Sugar Cooperative began looking at how to best improve productivity and reliability, explains Luther.
“We knew we needed to increase our efficiency and tried to figure out where to best do that, while considering where our growers are most located,” Luther continues.
The co-op decided to invest in capacity increases at their Neb. and Colo. facilities.
The other two facilities better match sugarbeet grower locations, she explains.
“It was really a way to optimize our footprint, increasing capacity for the growth of our company and matching it to where our growers are located.”
Western Sugar Cooperative is conscious of the impact of the sugar plant on the City of Torrington, says Luther.
“We’re very mindful that the Torrington facility is important to people in the region, so we tried to look at how we could best preserve the most jobs to service customers from our storage and packaging operations,” Luther continues.
Through scaling back the operating activities at the facility to a storage and packaging facility, the co-op will be able to preserve an estimated 22 positions at the facility.
Short-term, the City of Torrington will face revenue loss, says Goshen County Economic Development (GCEDC) Executive Director Ashley Harpstreith.
“Some of the parts that are going to be really tough for our community are the loss of electrical rates and the job loss,” says Harpstreith.
Briggs notes that while some jobs are being retained, Torrington residents will still be severely impacted by job losses.
“We’re still going to do a lot of warehousing and packaging here, but there will still be a lot of jobs that will be lost,” he says.
Harpstreith is hopeful that the future plans of the facility will be an attractant for other businesses to Torrington.
“The future landscape south of town looks different but not as grim as we anticipated. The future development of a powdered sugar line could be helpful in attracting other manufacturing companies that use powdered sugar as an ingredient,” continues Harpstreith.
GCED notes that they are working to find job opportunities and job training in Goshen County for those affected by the layoffs.
“We will continue to coordinate with our partners and friends at Department of Workforce Services and Eastern Wyoming College to assist and organize efforts for the displaced workers with training and training grant opportunities,” says Harpstreith.
Harpstreith comments that numerous businesses around the area are already contacting GCED regarding job opportunities for displaced workers.
“I’m confident that those workers are going to find a home in Goshen County,” concludes Harpstreith.
Wrapping up - Sugarbeet harvest nears completion in WyoWritten by Saige Albert
After an usually warm harvest season, sugarbeet harvest finished in northwest Wyoming and Montana on Nov. 1 and is expected to be complete in southeast Wyoming, Nebraska and northern Colorado by Nov. 10.
“We had an extremely dry harvest, and it was also extremely warm,” comments Western Sugar Agricultural Manager Randall Jobman on the season.
The warm harvest created additional challenges for harvesters and sugar companies alike.
Jobman notes that October 2014 was very warm – and possibly one of the warmest on record.
“We had to go through some heat scheduling this year,” he says. “We were open very early in the mornings and closed early in the day for 98 percent of October.”
Because beets should be stored at no higher than 50 degrees, when temperatures exceeded those levels, harvests stopped.
“We took extraordinary measures to put the beets in the pile cool – at 50 degrees or below,” Jobman says. “Now we need the weather to cool off. In the perfect world, we’d like beets to lie in the pile at refrigerated temperatures – in the mid-30s to 40s.”
Though harvest was slowed by heat scheduling, Jobman mentions the crop is improved over last year’s levels.
“The Lovell crop came in at over 26.5 tons per acre with a 17.42 percent sugar,” Jobman explains. “The sugar content is 18 percent better than last year.”
In Montana, producers saw yields at 33.5 tons per acre and sugar at 17.62 percent, or 17 percent better than one year ago.
“It was an extremely good harvest,” he adds. “Yields were slightly less than anticipated based on a few limited samples, but it was still a very good year.”
Jobman attributes the good harvest in Montana to timely planting and opportune rains. While rain near Lovell delayed planting this spring, the rest of the year went well for the area.
The south region of Western Sugar’s operations encompasses southeast Wyoming, eastern Nebraska and northern Colorado, and Agricultural Manager Jerry Darnell says harvest for the region was 95 percent complete as of Nov. 1.
“We had a warm harvest with above normal temperatures,” Darnell explains, also noting that the region took measures to keep beets cool. “We did a lot of late night and early morning harvests when temperatures were suitable for long-term storage.”
Darnell welcomes the cool temperatures in the forecast for the next several weeks, adding, “Looking at the forecast, we will be in good shape for beet storage.”
Though harvest is not yet complete, Darnell notes that at this point, Nebraska and southeast Wyoming are on track for a 27.7-ton harvest, with 17.74 percent sugar. Colorado harvests will likely hit 31.3 tons per acre and 17.25 percent sugar.
Compared to last year, he says, “This year was a lot better. We had below normal sugar last year.”
Darnell marks temperature as the primary factor the improvement of the sugar content in the 2014 crop over 2013.
“We will hopefully wrap up our harvest by Nov. 10 with the last five percent,” he says.
Sugarbeets will be processed until late February at both locations.
With improved sugar content compared to a year ago, Jobman says, “Sugar pricing is also better than a year ago.”
The American Sugar Alliance reported on Oct. 7 that the 2014 crop year would end with a surplus of sugar. USDA also reported that America’s sugar stocks-to-use ratio was at 15.2 percent as of Sept. 30.
“Stocks-to-use is a measurement of surplus, and in this case means that even if we didn’t produce another pound of sugar, there is enough leftover from the 2014 crop to meet 15.2 percent of America’s annual consumption,” the American Sugar Alliance said.
Sugar prices are also affected by imports.
Recently, U.S. sugar producers complained that Mexico’s subsidies for its sugar industry allowed the country to flood the U.S. sugar market with a cheap supply. As a result, in August, the U.S. imposed preliminary tariffs on the country’s sugar supply.
However, on in an Oct. 28 Wall Street Journal article, it was reported that draft agreements have been signed between the U.S. and Mexico to ensure Mexican sugar doesn’t flood the U.S. market.
The agreement would suspend any investigations into claims of unfairly traded exports, says the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“I am pleased that we were able to reach agreement in this important matter,” says Stefan Selig, under secretary of Commerce for International Trade. “The agreements should provide critical stability in a market that is important to both countries, while also ensuring that farmers and sugar refiners in the United States have an opportunity to compete on a level playing field.”
Sugar beets harvests show successful yearWritten by Saige Albert
“Sugar beet harvests have been great this year,” comments Western Sugar Cooperative’s Director of Shareholder Relations Kent Wimmer. “Yield and sugar content are both well above average.”
In Wyoming, Western Sugar Cooperative has two processing facilities – one in Lovell and one in Torrington. The company also owns three facilities in Colorado, Montana and Nebraska for a total of five processing facilities.
“We are virtually done with harvest in the north central part of Wyoming,” Wimmer says of the Lovell processing facility. “We are going to end up with a little over 30.1 tons per acre, which is extremely good.”
The region also marked a crop that was about 17.7 percent sugar.
“We are really pleased with the crop,” he adds.
Powell farmer Trent Reed agrees, saying, “I think overall we had a decent crop. It was better than last year, as far as tonnage and sugar, but it wasn’t quite as good as we had hoped.”
Reed notes that the weekend of Oct. 20-21 marked the end of beet harvest for their operation and most of the Big Horn Basin.
The Torrington facility, though not done with harvest yet, has seen similarly good yields.
“We are at a 29-ton per acre crop with a 17.6 percent sugar content,” Wimmer notes. “We are about 78 to 80 percent done with harvests in the Torrington area.”
In order to achieve the high sugar content of beets, Wimmer notes that there are a number of factors that must be considered.
“The length of the growing season and prolonged, non-interrupted growth are important,” he explains. “This year, we had nothing but sunshine and a lot of heat units with very little adverse weather.”
All of those factors are important for a good crop.
Reed adds that temperature is a major factor, and fertilizer use also plays a role.
“If producers use too much fertilizer, the beets will produce more tons, instead of increasing sugar content,” he explains.
“This year, we had to water more than normal,” he says, “but we hit the watering just right so things turned out well. The beets grew better, utilizing all of the fertilizer, so we had good tonnage and good sugar content.”
A consumer product
Both processing facilities will continue operating through the winter to February, and Wimmer notes that the Torrington processing plant will likely operate well into the month, producing a sugar product that makes up over 10 percent of the U.S. beet sugar.
As for where the fully processed sugar will be headed, Wimmer says, “A lot of the Wyoming sugar comes down into the Colorado and Denver markets. We also provide sugar from the Lovell plant into the Pacific northwest.”
Western Sugar Cooperative’s products are sold under the GW label, as well as under private label lines, and the company provides granulated, light and dark brown sugar, as well as powdered sugar and sugar packets to consumers.
In order for the sugar industry to be successful, however, Wimmer adds that the Farm Bill passage is vital.
“We are very concerned about the Farm Bill right now,” he says. “We utilize the sugar title of the farm bill, and we hope that Congress will pass the bill as it came out of the Senate.”
He also adds that the North American Free Trade Agreement also affects the sugar industry, and Mexico’s unlimited access to U.S. sugar markets plays a big role in the success of sugar.
At the same time as policy and trade affect the sugar industry, Wimmer notes that environmental concerns still play a role in the ability of Western Sugar to produce a final, sellable product.
“We need things to cool off now because we have to store these beets outside,” adds Wimmer, noting that they rely on nature’s refrigerator to store beets until they can be processed. “But we are starting to see some cooler weather with shorter days and winter coming.”
Webb researches sugarbeet diseases in search of producer applicationsWritten by Saige Albert
Worland – With sugarbeet producers becoming responsible for producing larger amounts of sugar to compensate for decreasing sugar cane acreage, USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Plant Pathologist Kimberly Webb strives to understand sugarbeet diseases.
“As a researcher, we have to evaluate and characterize the diversity of the pathogen population and understand how it interacts with the sugarbeets,” explains Webb. “We have to characterize the interactions. Our main output with USDA is to give growers something they can actually utilize in the field.”
In order for disease to occur, Webb notes that a susceptible host, virulent pathogen and permissive environment must all be present. Without one of the three, symptoms won’t develop.
Research concerning permissive environments looks at the effect of moisture levels, air temperatures and soil temperatures on pathogen growth.
“We have to understand our production regions and how the environments are different,” says Webb. “The same recommendations won’t work in two different regions.”
She also notes that they look at increases of disease over time and overlay the data with environmental parameters.
For Fusarium yellows, for example, Webb says they found there is very little disease at temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit and most occurs above 75 degrees.
“After that, it can get as hot as it wants and there isn’t increasing severity in the disease,” Webb explains. “The other key, especially with resistances, is that as it gets warmer, most plant resistances aren’t as effective because the plant isn’t able to fight off the pathogens.”
As plants are increasingly stressed, whether by heat, moisture or other environmental factors, Webb notes that they are less resistant.
Webb also looks at the host environment and the susceptibility of the sugarbeet to resist pathogens.
“We talk about the genes in the plant that make it able to defend itself and what the plant immune system is,” she explains. “We ask, is that defense similar for all sugarbeet diseases?”
The researchers work with proteomics and genomics to answer those questions.
“In proteomics, we look at the proteins extracted from susceptible and resistant varieties of the plants,” she explains. “The proteins are based on genes that are being expressed during stress.”
Researchers utilize a machine to separate the complex protein sample into smaller-sized fractions to enable them to look at individual proteins.
“We are looking for proteins that are turned on in one sample, but not in another, or for proteins that are more highly expressed,” she explains. “Right now, we are looking at how common these proteins are in all resistant varieties.”
By identifying common proteins, Webb notes that they hope to develop molecular markers that breeders can utilize to identify populations that are more resistant to different diseases.
At the same time that researchers are looking to develop sugarbeet plants to be more effective in fending off pathogens, they are also looking at pathogens to see how they cause diseases.
“We want to understand what genes the fungus has to come up with potential targets for fungicides or to see if we can develop a mechanism that to allow us to turn those genes off in the field,” she explains.
Phylogenetics, or the study of the evolutionary relatedness of organisms, is another tool Webb utilizes in her research.
“It is a population of pathogens that we are trying to protect against, rather than a specific organism,” she explained. “We have to understand how a gene is transferred through a population and how common it is.”
By characterizing populations of pathogens, Webb notes that they hope to identify those genes that are crucial in causing disease.
Webb adds that they have also worked on analyzing how pathogens infect sugarbeets. For example, using genetically modified versions of pathogens, they can observe growth of fungus to understand how it spreads and infects the plant.
Webb is also working to develop and distribute germplasm to seed companies to use in their breeding programs. The germplasm includes novel stress resistance genes.
“In my research, I work with plant breeder Dr. Lee Panella, who is focusing on the breeding and improvement of the germplasm,” says Webb. “He is looking at wild relatives of sugarbeet for sources of resistance, improved drought tolerance and some other agronomic characteristics.”
She continued that while Panella develops the background material necessary, seed companies develop his materials in developing commercial varieties
GM Sugarbeets yield profitsWritten by Saige Albert
Looking to answer the profitability question as it relates to sugarbeets, UW graduate student in agricultural economics Brian Lee began looking at the profitability of genetically modified (GM) sugarbeets as compared to the conventionally grown crop for his thesis project.
“This all came about because of the environmental concerns that have been brought up about GM sugarbeets recently,” says Lee.
“Since the introduction of GM sugarbeets, there has been a 95 percent adoption rate,” Lee explains. “USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) did an environmental impact statement to look at the effects the sugarbeets could have.”
Lee also mentions that, in Wyoming, sugarbeets have a big impact. According to the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics 2011, 821,000 tons of sugarbeets were produced in Wyoming in 2010, with the U.S. producing almost 32 million tons. With a 2009 average market price of $53.90 per ton, the impact of sugarbeets in the state is big.
Setting it up
“We wanted to visually compare GM and conventional sugarbeet profits,” explains Lee, “so we needed budgets and input prices.”
Using existing sugarbeet budgets provided by University of Nebraska Extension, Lee varied sugar, fuel, Roundup and fertilizer prices for GM and conventional crops, as well as potential market risk.
“The goal of this analysis was to see which type of sugarbeet is more profitable, and how often,” he says.
With a distribution of prices, Lee set up a model to vary those prices with each iteration and ran the model 10,000 times, enabling him to look at the difference between GM and conventional beets.
“From one year’s set of prices, within these budgets, the GM sugarbeet will be more profitable,” Lee comments.
Lee shared his analysis with several professors at UW, who had several concerns, so he continued his analysis to address any questions.
“One of the plant scientists thought herbicide prices were too low, so we looked at that, as well,” he explains. “A 10 percent reduction in herbicide cost accounted for about seven percent of the total cost of production. However, a 30 percent increase in herbicide costs showed herbicide accounting for 10 percent of production cost.”
A similar analysis was performed looking at Roundup prices, as well, and showed the herbicide costing from two to six percent of total production cost.
“The GM sugar beet profit distribution shows average profit at about $781 per acre. The max is well above $2,000,” he explains, adding that 95 percent of the time profit will hit between $313 and $1,300 per acre when using GM sugarbeets.
For conventional beets, Lee notes an average profit of $700 per acre, and, 95 percent of the time, profit will range between $267 and $1,200 per acre.
“Each time I ran the numbers through the budget, I was able to capture how much more profitable the GM was from the conventional,” says Lee. “The minimum difference was $8.08 and the maximum was $213. This says that 100 percent of the time, GM sugarbeets will be more profitable than conventional.”
Things to consider
“I recommend that, as long as glyphosate-resistant sugarbeets are around, go ahead and produce them,” says Lee. “They seem more profitable.”
He notes, however, that data from the USDA for Roundup was limited to 10 years, and the assumption that the average boost in yield of two tons was a driver in the differences.
“We did find that if you don’t see a yield boost from GM sugarbeets, conventional is more profitable 100 percent of the time,” he notes.
Currently, research is being conducted in the field to validate the two-ton yield increase. Lee also mentions that input differences, as well as irrigation and soil types, differ from place to place, which could yield other results.
“In general, GM sugarbeets will be more profitable, given market risk and price fluctuation, unless we see more government regulations,” notes Lee.
Lee’s advisor, UW Extension Production Economist John Ritten, also mentions, “There is a lot of research out there, but not as much on profitability analysis. When Brian gets to the next stage, he will run whole-farm models.”
“I’ve shown that GM sugarbeets are more profitable, but what about when other crops are available?” asks Lee. “I’m currently doing a linear programming model with corn, wheat, dry beans, initial alfalfa and established alfalfa to see what the optimal mix of crops is to maximize profit.”
GM sugarbeets hit the market
In 2005, USDA APHIS deregulated a genetically modified (GM) variety of sugarbeet that is tolerant to Roundup, a herbicide containing glyphosate. These sugarbeets, called Roundup Ready sugarbeets, were widely planted and accounted for 95 percent of sugarbeets planted in 2009-2010 crop year.
The deregulation of GM sugarbeets was only considered after an environmental assessment determined they were unlikely to pose a plant pest risk, according to the organization’s website.
However, following a lawsuit initiated by the Center for Food Safety, the Sierra Club and two organic seed groups in January 2008, courts mandated that the 2005 APHIS decision be vacated, and that the GM sugarbeet must be regulated once again beginning Aug. 13, 2010.
Shortly after, on Feb. 4, 2011, APHIS determined that partial de-regulation was sufficient until a full environmental impact statement (EIS) was complete. The EIS was published Oct. 11, 2011, and was open for comment until Dec. 13, 2011. The future of Roundup Ready sugarbeets remains in the balance.