Montana sugarbeet producers spending long days in fields

Published online: Oct 23, 2013
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Sugarbeet harvest is under way in the south central and central eastern to northeastern regions of Montana.

"The beet harvest started last week (Sept. 29)," said Tim Fine, Richland County Extension Agent in northeastern Montana, based in Sidney. "We are in full swing now. Producers will be working long days to bring in the beet harvest."

Richland County is part of the Yellowstone River Irrigation District, where sugarbeets grown under irrigation have been a part of farmers' rotations for decades.

Fine said farmers own special sugarbeet equipment for harvesting. Farmers first run over the sugarbeet field with a defoliator that takes off the tops of the beets. A beet digger then comes behind it and picks up the beets and puts them in a truck for hauling to the beet piling station.

"Most of the time, beets are emptied on the go in the field," Fine said, adding farmers have very long days when the beet harvest starts.

Sidney Sugars, the American Crystal Sugar plant in Sidney, saw more than half of the crop brought in the first week.

Fine said harvest lasts about a month unless weather delays it. If it is too warm, beets could spoil in the pile so harvest is shut down when temps reach a certain degree, he said.

On Oct. 11, it was raining in the Glendive, Sidney, area, so harvest was delayed, and the weekend forecast was for rain, too, according to the National Weather Service.

Fine said there are several piling stations where farmers take their trucks filled with beets to, so they don't have to drive all the way to Sidney.

Beet harvest is also in full swing around the Huntley area in the south central region of the state.

Ken Kephardt, superintendent at Huntley's Southern Agriculture Research Center, said sugarbeet harvest has been going on for the past two weeks.

On Oct. 11, the area received about 3 inches of rain so harvest is delayed a bit. The forecast for the Huntley area is for more rain during the weekend also.

Fine said the corn in eastern Montana is drying down and will be ready after sugarbeet harvest. Some corn still has some green in it, however. Silage corn harvest has finished.

Kephardt said it depends on the type of hybrid farmers are growing if it is ready to cut or not. Corn hybrids with 80-90 days maturing has a black layer and is drying down. Hybrids with 100-day maturity don't have that black layer yet.

However, the Huntley area did receive a hard frost so corn in the area is "shut down." Growing is done for the year.

Fine said cow/calf pairs are still out on summer pastures in his region. They are still green and there's "quite a bit of grass left."

Producers will be getting ready to wean calves soon and vaccinate them, he said.

Afterward, producers will be sending cows out to fall pastures or letting them graze harvested corn residue fields or sugarbeet top fields.