At the tender age of seven, Norm Nuss can remember raking alfalfa. He was also big enough to handle a 530 John Deere tractor and a CASE side-delivery rake that spring of 1961.
Many years later and thanks to his father Howard and his uncle Robert, Nuss started farming right after high school.
“They retired in 1987, as much as life-long farmers can retire, I purchased a John Deere vacuum planter that year and custom planted sugarbeets for a couple of growers. I continued to do this into 1988. The local Western Sugar agriculturalist, Terry Watson, allotted me my first 100 acres. When the cooperative was formed in 2002 we purchased our original shares and later added more to them.”
Currently the family corporation is located in Alliance, Neb. where Nuss’s grandfather Fred Nuss purchased the farm in 1937 after relocating from Bayard, Neb. He raised sugarbeets, cattle, corn and edible beans. Norm is a fourth-generation farmer on that homestead.
ACRES & ACRES
In a typical growing season, Nuss produces between 950 and 1,050 acres of beets and depending on one of the landowners shares they rotate with.
Rotational crops include hard red winter wheat, hard white wheat, corn, edible beans, light red kidney beans, pinto and great northern varieties grown on nearly 2,950 acres.
Planting beets begins April 15, and now that the cooperatives require new seed treatment such as Poncho Beta growers are more careful about planting due to higher costs.
Early harvest usually starts around September 20 with regular harvest starting October 6. Local pilers are about 5 to 11 miles from their fields, however they haul factory direct to Scottsbluff which is about 60 miles for their early harvest requirements. During the regular harvest they haul to the former Bayard factory pile grounds. Nuss says “This way we are not limited to truck requirements at Box Butte County pile grounds.” Harvest time brings 23.6 tons on average with sugar content at 16.7 percent.
Being involved in the industry leadership positions has been an integral part of life for Nuss. “I believe I joined the Nebraska Sugarbeet Growers Association in 1996. I’ve been on the Joint Research Committee, vice-chaired and chaired a Profitability Task Force that worked with University of Nebraska scientists to work on industry problems on actual on-farm producer trials. I have also served four years as an ASGA director and I am starting my fifth year.”
With regards to Western Sugar Cooperative, Nuss says, “it has made tremendous gains in debt reduction in the six years of its existence. Our co-op is a real player now because of the dedication of management, employees and the growers who deliver beets every year.”
“We will soon be looking into retiring older shareholders’ equities with the strengthening of the cooperative.”
ADVENTURES IN ROUNDUP
For most beet growers, 2008 was a frustrating year. “We planted, replanted and triple planted, and in our area we froze hard on May 11.” However, Nuss explains the excitement in growing Roundup Ready beet seed is worthwhile. “What an experience I had, we enjoyed the weed control, the clean, manicured fields looked fantastic.
“The beets still need time to ripen and we were a month short at the start and some fields in the west part of the county lost a month at the tail end due to a devastating hail storm on September 1.
“I’m excited to see what’s coming down the pike in biotechnology, drought resistant and freeze tolerant varieties. The sky is the limit.”
FAMILY & THE FUTURE
The general consensus is if Congress implements the sugar portions of the 2008 Farm Bill as intended, then beet growers will be in good shape. However, Nuss believes that the future of the industry can only remain strong if growers work together and stay vigilant on the country’s producers and processors profitability. “We have some dedicated people that care deeply about the industry and we need to support them with time and our PAC donations.”
With the existing state of the EU and U.S. economies, Nuss believes there won’t be anything taking place for a long time.
Looking at the future in beet production with the family corporation, Nuss has brought his son, Steven, into the business due to the fact that since he was a toddler he has been a farmer in the making.
“He usually handles the planting, spraying and running the harvester in addition to anything I particularly don’t want to do.
Nuss refers to his wife, Barb, as ‘my gal Friday’ for more reasons than the fact that she does the bookkeeping, keeps everyone fed and with the help of Nuss’s mother, Carole, they help shuttle machinery from one end of the county to the other. His stepson, Mark Kamerzell has also decided to join the family business.
From the sounds of things, the Nuss family farm is prepared for good times despite the knowledge that it is an ever-changing atmosphere in the agriculture industry.