Spring freezes spur beet replantWritten by Christy Hemken
“Before it’s over, it’ll be easier to count the ones we don’t replant,” says Torrington sugarbeet farmer Steve Feagler. “We identified half of ours that need to be replanted, and the others need to be watched closely in the next couple of days.”
“Every Saturday night for the last three weeks we’ve had a hard freeze,” says Western Sugar Cooperative Agricultural Manager Jerry Darnell. “Our growers will have to replant approximately 50 percent of their acreage.”
The first freeze came April 27 when 890 acres around Gordon, Neb. were frozen. Then a storm May 1 and 2 took a third of the spring’s acreage.
“The sugarbeets that survived the first freeze got frozen in the second,” says Feagler. “In the first go-round there were around 12,000 acres lost, and now I think it’s up considerably.”
Darnell says affected farmers in southeast Wyoming and southwestern Nebraska are in the process of replanting. “Normally we don’t have to worry about freezing after May 10, but this year we had one of the freezes after that date,” he notes.
Another complication added to the replanting equation is the shortage of Roundup Ready seed. This is the first spring the seed has been commercially available, but in a limited quantity because of its recentness.
This spring Roundup Ready seed occupied about 90 percent of Western Sugar’s beet acreage.
“We’re going to get about 60 to 70 percent of the acreage replanted to Roundup Ready sugarbeets,” estimates Darnell. “The remainder will be filled in with conventional varieties.”
Crop insurance will cover a portion of the loss, but Feagler says it’s generally very poor. “Crop insurance pays $35 per acre for replanting, and the cost of seed alone is probably $80 to $90,” he says. “The insurance payments will barely cover the fuel and equipment costs.”
“Under our contract with Western Sugar we have to replant sugarbeets until May 20,” says Feagler. “Any crop loss prior to that date has to be replanted under the contract, so the acreage is obligated.”
According to some estimates, growers will have to invest as much as $168 per acre to replant.
Prior to the freezes, area growers were already short on moisture. “We’ve been getting just enough to keep us going, but not enough to do any good,” comments Feagler. “The beets were behind with the cool weather. Even before the freezes they would have been 10 days to two weeks late for harvest.”
Feagler says Memorial Day weekend usually witnesses blocking and thinning, “but this year I would have been happy to see them coming up down the row.”
Darnell says the unaffected 50 percent of the crop was just beginning to emerge in mid-May. Ninety-six percent of the crop was planted at the time of the freezes.
Minimal damage to alfalfa and wheat has been reported from the freeze, with minor burning of leaves. Feagler says corn was still in the germination stage so it escaped the cold temperatures unharmed.
“Growers are now under a lot of pressure to get in a crop that will show any profit,” says Feagler. “Sugar prices are and have been flat, and on a late crop, yields will be down 20 percent or more. Anyone who breaks even on beets this year is going to be pretty lucky.”
“We’re not back to normal temperatures, and I’m afraid we’ll get another front in a week and see the same thing happen again,” says Feagler.