Wyoming Sugar Growers Bounce Back with Strong 2020 Crop

Published online: Oct 16, 2020 News Karla Pomeroy
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Source: Northern Wyoming News

Last year's sugarbeet harvest was hindered by three hard freezes that amounted to about 40 percent loss of sugar for Wyoming Sugar, according to Wyoming Sugar CEO Mike Greear. This year, they have to concern themselves about above-average temperatures.

In the 2019 harvest, Greear said they were able to process all but about 1,000 acres of beets. He added, however, that many of the beets harvested after the freezes lost a lot of sugar content.

The freezes impacted about 70 percent of the beets in the Rocky Mountain states, Greear said. Fortunately, he said Congressional action allowed funds from the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program to be used to assist growers through the crop insurance program.

He said the funds went to the cooperatives. For Wyoming Sugar, Greear said they paid out the funds to the growers.

"That funding stabilized the sugar beet industry," Greear said. He said for those without cooperatives, the individual growers had to apply for funding.

The tough growing season did not stop any growers from contracting for another year, Greear and Vince Salzman, vice president of operations, said. There was one grower who had announced early on that he was exiting the program and Wyoming Sugar had already made plans to replace the acreage with another grower taking them on.

This year they have contracted for just under 12,000 acres, 11, 947 acres, in Park, Big Horn, Washakie and Fremont counties. The bulk of the acreage is in Washakie County.

Greear said they used to have growers in Hot Springs County but have not had any for several years.

There are 45 members of the cooperative, but members are multi-family members. At one time Wyoming Sugar had 65 families involved in growing beets.

"Everything is under irrigation, which has been our saving grace this year, but if the drought continues it could be a problem," Greear said.

Early harvest started mid September and regular harvest began Thursday, Oct. 1.

Salzman said the crop is looking comparable to the company's five-year average and the sugar content is "right there."

However, Greear said on Oct. 1, we are nine days in and the highs and lows during the day are running 10 degrees higher than normal.

Wyoming Sugar has four dump stations - one in Basin, one at the factory in Worland, one between Riverton and Shoshoni and one between Midvale and Pavillion.

Salzman said, "We're fortunate that most of the beets can come to the yard, we can manage them better." He said they have the pile ventilator that can control the beet temperatures.

The morning has provided ideal conditions with the factory typically accepting beets at 7 a.m. but at the start of the harvest they were accepting them at 6 a.m.

Greear said they don't want beets any warmer than 50 degrees.

Upgrades

Salzman said the Wyoming Sugar Cooperative Board went forward with upgrades that had been planned, despite the struggles last year. The upgrades included upgrades to the scales for the truck drivers to get in and out more efficiently.

They also have a new refurbished piler online for this year's harvest. The new piler has new technology and scoop doors that is more efficient for drivers, provides less beet spillage.

They have also installed new screens that are more efficient of removing dirt and mud from the beets.

Employment

Salzman said they have been shorthanded this year at the factory. Ideally they would like to have 90 employees on average working per day and they are averaging about 82, not counting management.

"The employees we do have, have really stepped up and "done a great job getting the factory up and running. The factory is running probably the best it has in the past five years. I'm really excited about the condition of the factory and the commitment we have," Salzman said. "I'm really, really proud of what our employees have been able to do to get things up and running."

Salzman said finding employees is not something isolated to Wyoming Sugar, but it is an issue industry-wide.

Typically, when the factory is running they have a total of 200 employees with management, and on Sept. 28 the total number of employees was at 153.

Greear said, "Our board, as well, has made a commitment over the past three to four years to invest back into the company. Vince has done a great job of systematically upgrading it top to bottom. We have a ways to go, obviously you don't do it overnight but that investment is paying off."

Salzman added, "We've got the employee commitment, we've got the board commitment and we've got the grower commitment. It's all coming together as one; seems like we are a lot more unified than we have been in the past."