Western Sugar Predicts Record Beet Crop

Published online: Sep 08, 2020 News Andrew D. Brosig
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Source: Gillette News Record

Everything goes in cycles, and production agriculture is no exception.

Fresh on the heels of arguably one of the worst growing seasons on record in 2019, and with early sugarbeet harvest just underway this week, Jerry Darnell, vice president of agriculture for the Western Sugar Cooperative in Scottsbluff, Neb., said all indications are 2020 could be a record year.

Early harvest in Western Sugar growing areas kicked off Monday, Aug. 31. By Tuesday morning, Darnell said samples indicate a projected 33.75 ton per acre crop with 18.65% sugar content on some 45,000 planted acres in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming.

“Those will both be records,” Darnell said. “As long as Mother Nature cooperates with us.”

And so far this season, cooperate she has, he said. Minimal hail throughout the growing season combined with sufficient heat have combined to produce what Darnell called “a tremendous crop.”

And that’s being repeated on a total of 111,000 planted acres this year across Western Sugar’s growing regions in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, he said. In the Fort Morgan, Colorado, area, early projections are for 32.5 tons to the acre with almost 18% sugar content, which would be another record, Darnell said.

In the Lovell area of north-central Wyoming, early projections are for 28.7 tons per acre. Further north, Billings, Mont., growers are looking for a 34.9 ton per acre crop. The variance is in part due to spring rains around Lovell delaying early field work while some growers in the Fort Morgan area reported irrigation water shortages, Darnell said.

Despite the issues, however, all three areas should see pretty much average crops this year, he said.

Weather is one of the few things that could change the outlook for the 2020 sugar beet crop, Darnell said. Last year, fields suffered under the effects of a hard freeze – in the 10-degree range or colder in some areas – that effectively shut down sugar production in the roots and contributed to processing problems after they were out of the ground. But, according to meteorologist Richard Emanuel with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyo., nothing in the forecast at this time points to a possible repeat of last year’s weather conditions.

“We’re in a cooling period right now,” Emanuel said Tuesday. “Then the odds favor warming up again in the middle of the month. I’m not seeing anything that would suggest an early freeze or anything like that.”

As summer progresses to fall, too, the chances for severe hail diminish, Emanuel said. In fact, there’s not much in the way of precipitation of any kind predicted in the foreseeable future, he said.

Rather the opposite, actually, as “most of the area is in moderate to severe drought, especially north of the North Platte River Valley,” Emanuel said.

The USDA announced on Tuesday designation of six counties in Wyoming as primary disaster areas due to extreme drought, triggering possible eligibility for Farm Service Agency emergency loans. Five additional counties in Wyoming and three counties in Montana, contiguous with the primary counties, also may qualify for the emergency assistance, according to a release from the USDA.