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.”