Weather hinders beet harvestWritten by Teresa Milner
Snow and freezing temperatures in the low teens in the Big Horn and Shoshone Basins caused freeze damage to beets and has hindered digging. The storm came just weeks after a report from the National Ag Statistics Service predicted a record sugar beet harvest for Wyoming.
According to the Oct. 1 forecast, Wyoming growers were on track to harvest a record 780 thousand tons, up 17 percent from 2008. An estimated average of 26 tons per acre for 2009 also tops last year’s high of 24.5 tons per acre.
Warmer temperatures mid-October were helping some beets recover, but the drying, muddy ground is slowing down the restart of the harvest.
Growers for Western Sugar Cooperative began delivering beets under an allotment schedule Oct. 15. This limits how many beets a grower can deliver in a seven-day period. Allotments are designated to individual growers based on the amount of acres the grower has under contract with the cooperative. Under this allotment schedule, some growers might not deliver their full crop until the end of the year, and some beets will be left in the ground.
Weather also affected growers in southeast Wyoming and western Nebraska, shutting down their harvest for several days.
Frost can cause damage to beet tops and makes it difficult to defoliate the crop. Long-term exposure to extreme cold harms sugar content and causes problems during storage and processing. Frozen beets must be stored separately from other beets, because the moisture they release can cause rotting. Frozen beets must be processed a few days after being dug, rather than piled indefinitely.
Growers in Washakie and southern Big Horn counties fared the storm better than other parts of the state, however.
“The Worland area didn’t get as cold as it did up north, and we had more snow to insulate and protect the beets. We did see a little freeze in the crowns,” explains John Snyder with the Washakie Beet Growers Association. Beets can survive some freeze damage and slightly recover, provided the cold doesn’t kill the plants’ foliage.
“Conditions are extremely wet right now, but we are back in full harvest and back to stockpiling beets,” says Synder.
Cal Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Wyoming Sugar Company, estimates the harvest in the Worland area is about 40 percent complete.
The harvest for the entire state is about a third of the way completed. USDA crop conditions estimate a majority of Wyoming’s sugar beets are still in fair to excellent condition, but 21 percent of the crop is listed in poor or very poor condition.
Worland area farmers are glad they escaped the worst of the weather.
“The snow actually helped protect the beets so the damage here wasn’t as severe. So far it looks like a very high yielding crop,” says Johnson.
For now, beet farmers are hoping for those critical sunny days and dry weather to help bring in the remainder of the harvest and salvage what should have been Wyoming’s best crop in decades.