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More beets, less sucrose

Aug 25, 2013 - By Eric Blom Staff Writer

Fremont County farmers produced 38,000 tons of sugar beets last year, recently released statistics show. That is the most in three years.

The percentage of sucrose in local beets, a factor the product's price, dropped to the lowest in five years. A high sucrose content in sugar beets is desirable because the most sugar the beets contain, the more sugar they produce.

Production of beets in the county rose from 31,000 tons in 2011 and surpassed the 37,000 tons in 2010, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Last year, local beets measured 17.5 percent sucrose on average. That figure was lower than the 17.74 percent from 2011, an average of 18.05 percent in 2010 and 25.24 percent in 2009.

The rise in production was due to local farmers planting more acres. Data from showed 1,600 acres of sugar beets were harvested in Fremont County in 2012, which is 300 more than 2011.

Ron Cunningham, University of Wyoming Extension Office county coordinator, thought the increase in acreage was likely because Wyoming Sugar, which contracts with local farmers to raise sugar beets, wanted to increase production.

Last year's acreage was slightly higher than average for recent years but far from historical highs.

Fremont County in 2011 only saw 1,300 acres of beets harvested and had 1,500 acres of beets harvested in 2010. That figure hovered around 1,500 for the past six years, but many years in the 1990s saw Fremont County plant and harvest more than 4,000 acres of the field crop.

Sugar beets bring a significant amount of money into the local economy. The price received per ton in 2011 in Wyoming, the most recent year for which such data is available, was $74.60. If local farmers sold their 2011 crop at the state average price, the total income from sugar beets would have been $2.3 million.

Local yields in 2012 averaged 23.8 tons per acre the same as the year before. The same yield over more acres produced the larger total tonnage.

Though production was up, it was well below the 59,000-ton average over the past 29 years, since the federal agency began collecting data. Last year's yield was above the 20.0 tons per acre average yield over the last 29 years.

Wyoming's total tonnage of sugar beets in 2012 was 4.2 percent higher than 2011, but Fremont County's production rose 22.6 percent in that same period.

The county's share of Wyoming's harvest increased in 2012 to 4.25 percent, up from 3.61 percent the year before.

Cunningham said so far, the local sugar beet cropping is "looking good," but the harvest will depend on whether farmers can provide enough water for their fields.

The price of sugar beets will likely be down, Cunningham said, because it is tied to the price of sugar.

Sugar on the New York Mercantile Exchange is trading at a three-year low of $17.25 per pound. In August 2012, the price of sugar was $20.56 a pound.

Last year, Fremont County produced the second fewest sugar beets of the seven Wyoming counties that produce the crop. With 13,200 tons, only Laramie County harvested fewer. Park County, whose crop weighed in at 305,000 tons, grew the most beets.

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