“From Knee-High on Up”

2020 Grower of the Year Clark Enterprises of Wyoming

Published online: Feb 27, 2020 Feature, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, editor
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This article appears as the cover feature in the March 2020 issue of Sugar Producer.

Worland, Wyo., owes much of the success of its local economy to sugarbeets. Heck, Worland and several of its neighboring small towns owe a good portion of their very existence to the sugarbeet industry. The Wyoming Sugar Company factory in Worland has been in operation since 1917, and a lot of the Big Horn Basin’s growers are working the same land and producing the same (if vastly improved) crop their ancestors were a century ago. 

Like many in the area, brothers Tom and Tim Clark have always been sugarbeet farmers. Their grandparents moved to Worland during the Great Depression to work in the area’s sugarbeet fields, and beets have continued to sustain the family ever since.

Tom and Tim’s father, Frank Bentley Clark—known as Ben to those who knew him—began farming in the area in 1950, and settled in on the current farm in 1960.

“We were still pretty young then,” says Tom, “but make no mistake: My brother and I have both been involved in farming from knee-high on up.”

In the mid-1970s, Ben Clark began handing more control of the farm to his sons, and by 1980, they firmly held the reins. The farm expanded over the next few years, eventually growing just over 800 acres of sugarbeets—one of Wyoming Sugar’s biggest producers. In addition to farming, the Clarks also owned and operated a 6,000-head cattle-feeding operation. Over the last decade or so, Tom and Tim have scaled back the operation a bit; they sold the feedlot last year, and currently farm about 200 acres each of sugarbeets and alfalfa, 300 acres of corn, and 100 acres of malt barley.

A lot has changed over the years, but at least two things have not: the importance of sugarbeets to the community, and the Clarks’ dedication to growing them.

“Beets are vital to the Worland area,” Tom says. “We need this factory here. Year in and year out, the beets have treated us pretty well.”

He and his family have done their best to return the favor. Tom himself is currently the chairman of the board for Wyoming Sugar, and has served on the board of the Lower Hanover Canal Company for 25 years. And, of course, the Clarks are always on hand to help out their farming neighbors.

Like it was for growers in much of the country, 2019 was a difficult year for many Wyoming Sugar farmers. A big freeze hit in early October, followed by lots of moisture. The Clarks managed to harvest their beets without too much incident, then immediately started calling up neighbors who were still in the fields to see if they could lend their time and equipment to the effort.

“That’s kind of the way we work around the Worland area,” says Tom. “We finish up our own harvest and move on to the neighbors’ places, no questions asked.”

Tom and his wife Connie—a Wyoming farm girl who grew up just a few miles down the road from their current home—raised their two children, Colton and Kenzie, on the farm. And while neither has sought out a full-time role on the farm in adulthood, Tom says neither parents or children would trade that experience for the world.

“It’s an excellent family life,” he says. “To raise my son and daughter on the farm was such a blessing. They may not have come back, but the learned the value of a dollar and how to work, and that’s still valuable to them.”

Today, Wesley Clark—Tim’s son and Tom’s nephew—is stepping up to carry on the family tradition of growing sugarbeets in Worland. With a new generation of Clarks stepping up to take the wheel, Tom anticipates production on the farm to once again ramp up over the next few years.

“Wesley is the one who is going to lead this parade forward,” he says. “Tim and I built this deal together. We may have had our nose-to-nose encounters over the years, but combining business and family has been good to us.”