Cal. Growers' Future Uncertain

Published online: Apr 02, 2000
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Sugar beet growers have hit a snag in trying to buy sugar refining plants in Woodland and Tracy. The current owner, Imperial Sugar Co., is refusing to run the factories another year as part of the deal. During nearly two months of negotiations, Imperial Sugar Co. has held fast to its plan to close the two plants by the end of this year unless the beet growers step in to buy the properties, according to Ben Goodwin, executive manager of the California Beet Growers Association.

If the plants close, it could spell the end of the sugar beet industry in Northern California, including 650 jobs at the two processing plants.

A representative of those workers said Wednesday he's hopeful the purchase will occur. "Bottom line, we're still holding our faith that this deal will go through," said Henry Williams, president of Local 179 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

The possible purchase has been complicated by a deadline many growers face for planting sugar beets to be harvested next spring. Without some guarantee the factories will be operating a year from now, the growers will choose another, less profitable crop such as alfalfa or safflower.

Goodwin says it will be difficult for the growers to reach agreement on a sale of this magnitude before the planting deadline.

More than 200 beet growers ship their crop to the plants in Woodland and Tracy. The farmers last year grew sugar beets valued at nearly $90 million.