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Record harvest for sugar beets; income might not keep pace
Nov 27, 2012 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
Fremont County sugar beet growers had a record harvest this year. Low sugar prices, however, mean farmers likely will not see a record income.
Wyoming Sugar Company vice president Vince Salzman said WSC growers produced a record 29.33 tons per acre on average. He said this year's beets also have a high sugar content. The average was 17.9 percent.
"That's not quite a record, but it's pretty close," he said, adding that beets in 1985 set the sugar content record.
Furthermore, he said the factory has been working well, extracting sugar more efficiently than in other years.
WSC processes beets from about 40 to 50 growers in Fremont, Washakie and Big Horn counties. The growers own the company, which use the beets to make sugar and other products.
Despite high tonnage, sugar content and extraction, Salzman expects farmers to fare worse this year than normal because of low sugar prices.
"In the end, we'll end up just a little behind," he said.
Salzman said sugar prices have declined throughout the year because beet producers in other areas also had a record year.
"Everybody had an oversupply on the market" he said. "We've seen a 20 to 25 percent drop in prices."
Fremont County farmers produced 38,000 tons of beets, and they all go to WSC, Salzman said. Fremont County accounts for 13 percent of the crop WSC processes.
"The Riverton-Midvale area has always had a quality beet for us, with good sugar content," Salzman said.
Fremont County ranks fifth in Wyoming in sugar beet production. In 2010, the county had 1,500 acres planted with the crop.
Growers bring their beets to a beet dump, either to one in Midvale or one near Riverton, and the company then trucks the beets to its Worland plant.
Salzman said this year's record harvest was because of Roundup Ready beets. More farmers are using the variety, which is unaffected by herbicides, allowing more efficient spraying for weeds in beet fields.
Herbicides stunt the growth of normal beets, and weeds compete for nutrients. With the new beets, farmers can kill the other plants without slowing the growth of the crop, Salzman said.
"It's made a huge difference," he said.
WSC started slicing beets Sept. 22. The factory then juices the slices and processes the juice into sugar.
Salzman says he expects to finish slicing around Christmas and to finish juicing around Jan. 1. They will finish processing the juice soon after that.
In the end, the factory will produce about 82.5 million pounds of sugar, he said, with most of the product going to industrial users, not the grocery store shelf. The factory also produces beet molasses, pressed pulp, and precipitated calcium carbonate.
Salzman said some Fremont County livestock owners buy the pressed pulp for animal feed, and Rocky Mountain Mushrooms near Shoshoni adds the precipitated calcium carbonate to soil to grow its crop.
Salzman is hoping for more moisture this winter for next year's beet crop. He also expects sugar prices to stay low for a year as the market slowly absorbs this year's oversupply.