Lungren Family Legacy in Worland, Wyo.

A Rewarding and Historic Journey

Published online: Nov 18, 2010 Feature Editor
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Five generations of sugarbeet growers in America offer a true spirit of agricultural heritage.


The Lungren legacy began long before settling in Worland, Wyo., where today Clint and Vance Lungren are the fourth generation on that land growing for Western Sugar Company. The Lungrens farm about 2,500 acres including 800 acres of beets, 1,200 acres malt barley, 250 acres dry beans, 200 acres seed alfalfa and some alfalfa.


"We make all the decisions as a team and communicate continually throughout the day. A couple years ago we started our Monday morning meetings, where we meet at Mom and Dad's house for breakfast and discussion of the week's work ahead. It's been one of the best programs we've put together. It gets us all on the same page to start the week."
Historically, it has been significant to know and understand one's family heritage. The descendants for this family ".originated in Germany and migrated to the Volga area of Russia," continued Vance, "where our great-great grandfather, Jacob Lungren, was born."


He grew up, married and started a family where his first-born, Adam Lungren, became Vance and Clint's great-grandfather. He then migrated to the United States around 1905.



Sugarbeet Connection


Their first involvement with the sugarbeet industry came when Great Western Sugar Company hired the Lungrens. They worked as beet field workers, farmed in various places from Monte Vista to Grand Junction to Loma, Colo. and eventually Adam married Elizabeth in Sheridan, Wyo. Interestingly, Elizabeth's family also came from the Volga area, migrated to America and followed the sugarbeet industry for work. Finally after a few years they settled in Worland, Wyo. with the Holly Sugar Company.
In Lungren's first job in Worland he worked for L.E. Laird. In 1926 he went to work for Arthur Alcott on a farm.


Vance fondly tells how "The 10 years spent with the Alcott's were happy times of settlement and independence. Family earnings gave savings which allowed them to purchase their first automobile."
"In 1937, opportunity knocked again, as Adam was presented a chance to farm on his own. Adam and Elizabeth moved their family-which now numbered nine children-to the Rose Clem place just south of Worland where he rented 160 acres."
"Adam had become a successful all around farmer by now with a labor force of his own." Soon trucks, farm machinery and teams of horses were part of the family belongings."



Giant Leap


"The big step came in 1942 when they purchased a 272-acre Holly Sugar farm two miles south of Worland. This was, for them and the times, a huge undertaking and responsibility. The new farm had two houses, several barns and outbuildings, and livestock corrals."
Fortunately, for Vance and his brother Clint, that farm maintains its place as the base of their current operations.


Vance says, "My brother's family of four lives in one of the houses and my family of five lives in the other. While there's been a little remodeling to each home over the years, I enjoy sitting at my kitchen table over-looking the operation. Knowing both Grandpa Adam and Grandpa Lloyd sat in that very position, in that very kitchen."


Soon the horse-drawn machinery became technical tractors and equipment. As the `70s arrived so did a new shop and then the `80s brought front-wheel assist tractors, 12-row equipment and improved beet chemical applications.
Today, Vance says, "We are heavily involved with sprinkler irrigation, RTK guidance technology, and strip-tillage. We have now been, for the third year, strip-tilling our sugarbeets." They created their own version of a modified Orthman toolbar strip-till implement.


"Each year we learn more about strip-till and each winter we make some changes. Last winter we added a steerable liquid fertilizer caddy and lift assist made by Montag Manufacturing. We also strip-tilled beets directly into established alfalfa hay this spring with fantastic results. Our dry beans this year were all strip-tilled as well. It's nice to see both the soil and the plow not moving!"



Wisdom & Experience


Even though the fifth generation is doing the farming these days, both Vance and Clint seek the respected advice from their mentors.
"Dad (Vance Sr.) and Grandpa (Lloyd) are vital support systems. Their experience and trials have laid the foundations that we have built on. Dad's strong faith and continual prayer has been the glue holding the operation together."


"Grandpa, at 85 years old, still puts in a full day's work and his unrelenting desire to build a sound and secure farm/ranch operation permeates through us all. He is consistent as the sunrise in his thoughts, actions, and focus. He manages to find a problem and fix it nearly every day."


The willingness of dad and grandpa to turn over responsibilities to the next generation they believe in and trust was a big step.
"Even if it is a path that they don't necessarily agree with or that they know we are unlikely to succeed at, they go along, doing what they can to help along the way."
Despite their worries at new methods, the old hands support the efforts of the young ones knowing that they learn and grow with their guidance.



Looking Forward


"It is incredible to look back in our family's history and see what a staple this crop has been for us and for many other families just like us. We went through a couple of years when growers were faced with high grain and bean prices coupled with lower sugar prices. We all struggled to provide our newly purchased grower-owned factory with enough beets to keep the doors open."


Respectfully, Vance says some key growers understood just how important this crop is in their area. They did what it took through tough times and less than desirable circumstances. Vance recalls how growers ".had to push their rotations which encouraged disease pressures that will take years to remedy, but we kept it open."


"Now with some price recovery and better seed genetics we are beginning to make up for many marginal years. We know just as we are grateful that our elders fought through the tough times and issues with this crop, as will our kids realize the benefits of a crop that marches to its own drumbeat and helps diversify a crop portfolio."


Planting the first week of April is the goal, however, this year they got started a little late due to the cooler weather. The crop grew well and caught up, looking great. They began early dig September 20 with a goal of 10 percent of the crop delivered by October 1 and then regular harvest starts.


The factory averaged 29.1 TPA and 17.1 percent sugar last year. Growers recalled that the frost in mid-October followed by a warming trend hurt the sugar. Brighter prospects are in store with this year's crop.




Challenges and Direction


The Lungrens believe they ".have got a handle on Rizoctonia through improved rotations and proper application timing of Quadris in the spring. We are seeing an increase in the need to monitor and spray for Cercospora. We have always used Telone II for nematode control but recently, due to shortage of supply, we have been trying resistant seed in fields with low nematode counts."


Vance is currently heading into his second year as a member of the Wyoming Sugar Growers Board. Clint is the vice- president of a local canal board.
Looking at the future with Roundup Ready Beet technology, Vance says, "If we were to lose Roundup Ready it would be a huge step backward in our efforts to reduce chemical usage, emissions, dust pollution and soil erosion."


"While most of the yield increases we have experience since the onset of Roundup Ready Beets for our area has been a result of improved seed genetics and built in resistances, Roundup Ready, coupled with sprinkler irrigation and RTK technology, has opened the door to strip-tillage and less chemical usage."


Vance also says, "Strip-tillage has cut our annual fuel consumption by a significant amount while preventing soil erosion via wind and water, and also allowing us to build the organic matter in our soils."
Looking to the future for sugarbeet production in the U.S., the Lungrens stay positive and hopeful. "With the move to grower-owned processing, today's sugarbeet grower has all of the responsibility of the production side as well as now the processing and marketing side."


Additionally, "growers have taken on an additional load of risk in an already risky business. Now processing problems can affect a grower just like a hail storm. Understanding this new relationship and its responsibilities is critical to moving forward. Growers need to understand that introducing the best beet possible to their factory will lead to an efficient campaign that will go straight to their bottom line."


Speaking to growers throughout the industry, the Lungrens want all to know they have "enjoyed the challenge and believe there has been enough experience out there now newcomers can avoid some of the expensive mistakes."