Neb. sugarbeet harvest improves over 2014

Published online: Oct 07, 2015 News
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GERING, Neb.—Last year’s unseasonable heat in late summer disrupted the Panhandle’s sugarbeet harvest, to the dismay of local beet producers. Gering Valley farmer Ted Roth, who has raised sugar beets his entire career since 1979, said the stretch of dry weather was too warm to store the beets well. 

Roth said the heat promoted the disruption of the sugar beets in the pile at the Scottsbluff factory. “When sugarbeets lose moisture they start to break down and they don’t produce very well,” said Roth. “The cells rupture and the beets start to lose liquid which means you are losing sugar. You are also losing money,” he said.

The weather last year hampered the whole beet harvest process. Western Sugar Cooperative will only take in the harvest at certain temperatures so if the weather gets too hot they will set a deadline.

Roth said in ideal circumstance the beet harvest would be handled in 12-hour stretches every day, but with early cut-off times many had to shut down operations sooner than desired last year.

“We’d start at around 4 a.m.,” he said, “and by 8 a.m., they would call us and say we had a 9 a.m. drop off time. It was frustrating. It would vary from day to day. We’d set out wanting a 12-hour day, and only get in four.” 

Western Sugar pays farmers based upon a scale from sampled beets. Roth said as farmers deliver the beets every other load is tested for sugar percentage, and an average is established.

“Sugarbeets range from 12 percent to 20 percent sugar content,” he said. “Most of the time it is around 14 percent to 18 percent. The higher the sugar percentage, the more we are paid. This is also tied into how many tons you deliver.” 

Roth said beet farming has improved in the last 3-4 years since the move was made to Round Up Ready beets. Yeilds have gone up considerably. “In tonnage, yields have gone from 23-24 tons to 30-35 tons,” he said. “Due to the longer term health of the plant itself, there is more sugar production in the beet, bringing sugar content up by 1-1.25 percent. After last year’s disappointment, things are looking more favorable this season.

Beet farmers are usually paid by the company somewhere from between 65 percent to 75 percent of what is projected depending upon the market. Roth explained the sugar beet payments happen pretty much all year round. The last projected payment is sent out about 45 days before the first payment starts the whole cycle over again. 

“The first payment is around 70 percent and after that you get another 10 percent payment, and another 10, and so on. You hopefully will get to 100 percent.”

As a result of the bad harvest weather last year many area beet farmers’ projections fell short. Final payments were as small as five percent. “Some didn’t get a final payment at all,” Roth said. “This happened to most everyone.”

Roth said he has been farming south of Gering all his life. “I was born and raised here,” he said. “I grew up on a family farm.”

Roth attended the University of Wyoming and earned a degree in Crop Science before coming back to continue farming here.

Early harvest has already started, while conditions for sugar beets are looking good.

“Things are looking quite well,” Roth said. “We had lots of early moisture and the beets came up on time.”

Roth said Mother Nature surprised everyone with a late snow storm last spring, but in the Gering Valley area there was already a good snow cover that insulated the crop. People farming north of the river likely weren’t as lucky, but overall there was not much stress on the local crop.

“Things are looking pretty darn good in Gering Valley,” Roth said. With early harvest the sugar factory wants to check their operations and equipment, Roth said. This year early harvest was mandatory for all growers. Growers are given different four-day slots to deliver their early harvest beets. Everyone will be bringing in three-and-a-half tons per acre for the early harvest. 

“It started on Sept. 15 and runs until Oct. 2,” Roth said. “Regular harvest starts on Oct. 6.”

Roth said the longer the beets stay in the ground, the more sugar they produce. Farmers are given a premium price for early harvest beets to compensate for any loss.