Montana Beet Harvest Near Record Size

Published online: Nov 13, 2017 News Tom Lutey
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Source: Billings Gazette

Montana sugarbeet growers have piled up a near-record harvest this fall, enough to keep factories making sugar in Billings and Sidney well into February.

For the second year in a row, Sidney-area growers have piled a million tons of beets to feed the Sidney Sugars factory near the Montana-North Dakota border. The sugar content was about 17.9 percent.

Sugarbeets, irrigated with Yellowstone River water, have been a bright spot in eastern Montana, where extreme drought devastated dryland crops this year.

“We got about 31.25 tons to an acre,” says Duane Peters, agriculture manger for Sidney Sugars. “That gives us just over a million tons. We’re happy about that.”

The sugar industry pumps about $100 million into the Montana economy annually.

Eastern Montana growers stopped digging beets Oct. 25, which is a typical time of finish. But the growers fired up their beet diggers in mid-September to deal with an expected bumper crop. In 2016, a larger than normal harvest kept Sidney Sugars processing into March.

Western Sugar Cooperative farmers in southern Montana harvested 36.4 tons per acre, the second-largest yield for sugarbeet growers feeding the Western factory in Billings. The sugar count was 17.4 percent.

Farms in south-central Montana started out with an exceptionally wet spring, but not the cool temperatures that hurt plant growth. Fair fall weather helped harvest, with the exception of a few days.

“We dealt with some warm and wet weather early on in the harvest, which caused us some delays, but the weather straightened out toward the end of October,” says Randall Jobman, Western’s vice president of agriculture in the northern region. “The beets went into the piles in good shape, and we expect to finish the campaign in mid-February.”

In the Lovell, Wyo., area, sugarbeet tons were down to 27.9 per acre, with sugar content at 17.2 percent.

Sugarbeets are stored outside in piles, where a steady stream of factory-bound trucks are loaded from September through February. Hot days are the big concern for piled beets, which naturally generate heat that can turn to rot if temperatures are too hot.

This fall, temperatures in the area have been fairly moderate.