Idaho sugarbeet crop off to good start

Published online: May 17, 2014
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Idaho sugarbeet growers say their crops are mostly planted and are off to a good start, though cold and wet weather has delayed planting in other major sugarbeet states.

Thus far, Idaho has avoided widespread frost damage, which forced growers to replant about half of their beets last season.

Mark Duffin, executive director of Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association, said some growers held off planting by about a week to minimize the frost risk following last season.

“So far this year, there have been some replants, but not nearly to the extent we had a year ago,” Duffin said.

American Falls, Idaho, farmer Jeff Pahl started planting his crop on April 1 last season but waited a week longer to plant this season as a precaution. His beets have grown to the width of a nickel, though growth has been delayed a bit by recent cold nights that have dipped to 28 degrees. Unlike last season, however, his beets haven’t sustained damage.

USDA estimated 98 percent of Idaho’s beet crop was planted by May 11. In states such as Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota, farmers hadn’t finished planting beets due to wet and frozen ground.

“From what I’ve heard, we’re definitely better off than most states as far as getting the crop in and getting (beets) started,” Pahl said. “So far it looks optimistic as far as crop growth goes.”

Vic Jaro, president and CEO of Boise-based Amalgamated Sugar Co., expects to have 180,000 contracted sugar beet acres this season, down from the usual 182,000 acres.

Jaro explained Amalgamated has an act of God exclusion. A committee allowed certain growers who draw water from Owyhee Reservoir and a few smaller reservoirs in Oregon, where the water supply is limited, to opt out of planting about 4,000 acres of obligatory beet shares.

He said beet growers in other areas with adequate water supplies have picked up about 2,000 of those acres.

The national beet crop is expected to be down about 4 percent, reflecting low sugar prices, Jack Roney, director of economics and policy analysis with the American Sugar Alliance, said.

Throughout 2013, U.S. raw sugar prices averaged 20.5 cents per pound, well below levels of the 1980s. Roney said raw prices have strengthened lately and are now about 24 cents per pound.

Roney believes Mexico has reduced its sugar shipments to the U.S. to assess the ramifications of a complaint American sugar growers filed in late March. They alleged Mexico has illegally dumped subsidized sugar onto the U.S. market and are requesting protective tariffs.

The price of refined sugar reached 29.75 cents at the start of May, up from 26.5 cents in March.

Roney said weather-delayed sugar plantings in the U.S., the reduced national crop size and USDA’s diversion of about a million pounds of surplus sugar from the U.S. market have also contributed to stronger prices.

Jaro and Roney declined to estimate the break-even price for growers, though Pahl said current prices are near the break-even point for his region. World prices for raw sugar are now 17-18 cents.