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Wyoming Sugar completes 2009 processing after cold, mud hinder harvest

Worland – The Wyoming Sugar Cooperative in Worland has finished processing the 2009 sugar beet crop, and CEO Cal Jones says the year was challenged, but ended up with a “very good crop.”
“We had a good crop, despite some wet weather in early October,” says Jones. “We had a little rain and snow, plus a hard freeze early.”
He says the southern Big Horn Basin was fortunate in that a snow cover insulated the crop to a degree. “We were able to slow harvest down at that point and let the beets thaw out in the soil,” he says, adding that seemed to have helped and the cooperative’s growers were able to harvest all their acres.
“We ended up with a crop averaging 29 tons per acre,” says Jones. “And that was a record yield for us.”
However, he says the weather challenges also contributed to higher incidents of mud in the storage piles, which cause problems in the factory process with handling the mud.
“That slows things down, and it has an abrasion effect on the equipment,” he adds. “That means higher maintenance for us, and reduces the ability of the storage pile to properly ventilate, which results in increased storage losses.”
In addition to processing their own beets, Wyoming Sugar also took in beets from Western Sugar Cooperative. With growers in the north end of the Big Horn Basin, Western Sugar’s beets didn’t fare as well in the hard freeze. Jones explains that after a beet freezes it ruptures the tissues, rendering it unable to store properly.
“This was a unique opportunity for both of our companies and growers to get involved. We wanted to assist the growers in getting a larger percentage of their crop out,” says Jones, adding the “we’re all in this together” mentality spurred the partnership.
“We were able to receive and process a quantity of their beets,” he adds. “It worked for us, and I’m sure it did for them because it allowed them to get a higher percentage harvested.”
This winter some producers in the north end of the Big Horn Basin have turned cattle and sheep out on their fields to clean up some of the leftover beets that were unable to be harvested.
UW Powell Research and Extension Center Research Associate Randy Violett says as the ground has begun to thaw many producers in the area are discing to cut up the leftover beets as much as possible.
“As the ground thaws more they’ll plow them under, to bury them as deep as they can,” says Violett. “The issue this year will be not only nitrogen release, but also furrow irrigation.”
He says growers will bury the beets as much as they can so they don’t resurface when the field’s are reworked.
Of the livestock turned out this winter on the sugar beets, Violett says cattle are working the fields, taking the tops and crowns, which means the beets will still need to be cut up. However, he notes those that have turned sheep out on the beets are doing a little better because the sheep will consume more of the beet.
“The biggest issue is what the growers can plant behind those beets that won’t be affected by the late release of nitrogen,” says Violett, adding that malting barley has been considered, but may not be a good choice. “There’s a fear the nitrogen will release and cause high protein levels in the barley, with is not desirable.”
He says some growers will put in dry beans behind the beets, which will help some, but adds, “There’s still concern about the nitrogen, which might prolong the maturity of the bean.”
Violett says some growers are thinking about putting confection sunflowers behind the sugar beets, or spring wheat. He says North Dakota has had a similar experience to what the northern Big Horn Basin is facing this year, and they found soybeans worked the best behind beets.
“It will be an interesting spring for these growers,” says Violett.
Looking ahead to the 2010 growing season, Jones notes that Wyoming Sugar has gone to two-year contracts with growers to add stability for both their growers and their employees.
“That gives our growers the opportunity to plan ahead, and it gives the employees a comfort zone,” says Jones. “With the economic situation, the longer contracts add stability to the industry.”
Of this spring, Jones says the fields are still wet, but don’t have any snow cover. “We’re anxious to get in the field for the 2010 crop, and it won’t be long before they’re putting barley in around the area.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..