Solid Numbers for Nebraska Beet Harvest

Published online: Oct 12, 2017 News John E. Weare
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Source: Alliance Times-Herald


Semis, trucks and tractors have plied western Nebraska roads for weeks as crews harvest the autumn bounty. Most of this traffic in Box Butte County now consists of trucks hauling sugarbeets since Western Sugar Cooperative’s regular campaign began Oct. 6. Growers have been seeing good sugar content and tonnage numbers so far.

Some crews have been out in the fields for more than a month. Early harvest started Sept. 5 (compared to Sept. 12 in 2016) with direct delivery to sugar factories at Scottsbluff, Neb., and Torrington, Wyo. Box Butte County growers began hauling Sept. 11. On Sept. 18, the Ginn receiving station north of Alliance, Neb., ran for a week as semis re-hauled the crop for processing. The Hemingford receiving station, a few miles west of Alliance, started Sept. 25. Early harvest takes in close to one-fifth of the entire crop. Overall, as of Oct. 2, sugar content for the Box Butte County area was 16.13 percent, with sugar loss to molasses at 1.2 percent, says Western Sugar senior agriculturalist Wade Wimmer. In comparison, he noted the daily averages for Sept. 27 were 16.7 and 1.4 percent, respectively.

“[Those are] good numbers for this time of year,” says Wimmer, “[It’s] encouraging going into regular harvest.”

The main division when discussing beets this year is whether the field sustained hail damage. Wimmer says the non-hailed crops look good, with an expected 30 to 31 tons per acre on average.

Data varies, usually depending on how far into the season beets are harvested. Wimmer says sugar content usually walks up a tenth of a percent a day “as long as no extreme cold weather” moves in.

“As far as quality and sugar, we have high hopes,” Wimmer says.

Harvest posted records in 2016 at 30.5 tons per acre and 18.2 percent sugar content. Wimmer says this year’s tonnage and sugar reports are on track to match those numbers.

Scheduling was a bit earlier this fall. Wimmer says it was the “first time we started two factories as early as we did. The earlier we plant, the earlier we finish.” The goal is to finish slicing beets at the plants by mid-February.

Growers may see a better return compared to other crops like wheat and corn, as sugar prices have been strengthening.

“With all commodities kind of down, (it) puts more pressure on the farmer,” says Wimmer. “Guys are hopeful it will come to fruition to have a good beet harvest.”

As the sugarbeet crop continues to pour in, there are few surprises. Wimmer says it harvest been tracking as samples indicated. Though he says hail is a factor every year, severity and timing of storms influence recovery.

“The big storm in late July—[growers] recovered fairly well,” he says. “Another heavy amount in August … only time will tell as far as recovery.”

Disease was present this season, yet not a major factor. Wimmer says there was a little more Rhizoctonia pressure by August, while Cercospora pressure was down.

“Overall disease pressure was not too bad,” he says.

Beet harvest boosts seasonal employment with Western hiring 60 to 65 people for receiving stations at Alliance, Hemingford and Mirage Flats, operating seven pilers.

Overall, growers hope for mostly dry conditions with highs in the mid-60s and lows in the mid-30s over the coming weeks.