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Sugar beet growers brace for lower prices
Snow dusted the growing pile of sugar beets at the Midvale loading station during an idle period. Wet fall weather has slowed the normal harvest process. Photo by Wayne Nicholls

Good harvest, soft market: Sugar beet growers brace for lower prices

Nov 5, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Despite high yields, local sugar beet farmers may be looking at a pay cut this year due to low prices for their crops.

"There's no question, (the price) is going to be less than last year," said Myron Casdorph, agriculture administrator for the Wyoming Sugar Company.

He attributed the change to a softer sugar market. Reports show the price on commodities markets for a pound of sugar dropped from over 20 cents in October 2012 to about 17.7 cents now.

The rate has ticked up about .8 cent over the last three months.

Sugar content low

To compound the price problem, Wyoming beets have been producing less sugar this year, Casdorph continued.

"It's running pretty below average," Casdorph said. "Right now, they're running about 15 percent."

Last year, local beets measured 17.5 percent sucrose on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The figure has fallen steadily since 2009, when the average sugar content for beets was 25.24 percent. In 2010 the average was 18.05 percent, and in 2011 it fell to 17.74 percent.

The low sugar numbers are the result of weather, according to Midvale-area farmer Dennis Christensen. A late spring thaw caused a delay in planting, he said, so most of his beets have not had enough time to mature.

Slow 'winterizing'

More recently, Christensen said wet weather has prevented beets from entering "winter mode," when the plants collect sugar in their roots to prepare for the cold season. Farmers try to harvest their beets after the winter transition in order to capitalize on the high sugar content in the root.

This year, farmers had to wait longer than usual for the winterizing process to take place. Normally, Casdorph said, the harvest is over by the end of October. But this year he said Fremont County farmers only had about two-thirds of their beets out of the ground by Halloween.

"Usually by now we're done, a week or two ago done," Casdorph said.

The process has been slow, too. Christensen said the wet weather has left some of his property inaccessible. Other areas are soggy, he said, and tractors and trucks have trouble moving over the saturated ground.

"It's been a tough harvest," Christensen said. "It's trying our patience."

All of the water in the ground should result in high yields, however. Christensen said the beet roots will suck up more water from the soil and gain weight, increasing overall tonnage.

Casdorph said yield numbers have been "fabulous" so far this year.

"Itís between 26 and 30 tons to the acre," he said.

Those figures are a marked improvement over the last two years, when local farmers produced 23.8 tons per acre, according to the USDA.

Casdorph said Fremont County farmers planted 1,700 acres in sugar beets this year, about the same as last season.

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