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Sugar Beets

Worland – With sugarbeet producers becoming responsible for producing larger amounts of sugar to compensate for decreasing sugar cane acreage, USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Plant Pathologist Kimberly Webb strives to understand sugarbeet diseases.

“As a researcher, we have to evaluate and characterize the diversity of the pathogen population and understand how it interacts with the sugarbeets,” explains Webb. “We have to characterize the interactions. Our main output with USDA is to give growers something they can actually utilize in the field.”

In order for disease to occur, Webb notes that a susceptible host, virulent pathogen and permissive environment must all be present. Without one of the three, symptoms won’t develop.


Research concerning permissive environments looks at the effect of moisture levels, air temperatures and soil temperatures on pathogen growth.

“We have to understand our production regions and how the environments are different,” says Webb. “The same recommendations won’t work in two different regions.”

She also notes that they look at increases of disease over time and overlay the data with environmental parameters.

For Fusarium yellows, for example, Webb says they found there is very little disease at temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit and most occurs above 75 degrees.

“After that, it can get as hot as it wants and there isn’t increasing severity in the disease,” Webb explains. “The other key, especially with resistances, is that as it gets warmer, most plant resistances aren’t as effective because the plant isn’t able to fight off the pathogens.”

As plants are increasingly stressed, whether by heat, moisture or other environmental factors, Webb notes that they are less resistant. 

Host environment

Webb also looks at the host environment and the susceptibility of the sugarbeet to resist pathogens.

“We talk about the genes in the plant that make it able to defend itself and what the plant immune system is,” she explains. “We ask, is that defense similar for all sugarbeet diseases?”

The researchers work with proteomics and genomics to answer those questions.

“In proteomics, we look at the proteins extracted from susceptible and resistant varieties of the plants,” she explains. “The proteins are based on genes that are being expressed during stress.”

Researchers utilize a machine to separate the complex protein sample into smaller-sized fractions to enable them to look at individual proteins.

“We are looking for proteins that are turned on in one sample, but not in another, or for proteins that are more highly expressed,” she explains. “Right now, we are looking at how common these proteins are in all resistant varieties.”

By identifying common proteins, Webb notes that they hope to develop molecular markers that breeders can utilize to identify populations that are more resistant to different diseases.

Pathogen developments

At the same time that researchers are looking to develop sugarbeet plants to be more effective in fending off pathogens, they are also looking at pathogens to see how they cause diseases.

“We want to understand what genes the fungus has to come up with potential targets for fungicides or to see if we can develop a mechanism that to allow us to turn those genes off in the field,” she explains.

Phylogenetics, or the study of the evolutionary relatedness of organisms, is another tool Webb utilizes in her research.

“It is a population of pathogens that we are trying to protect against, rather than a specific organism,” she explained. “We have to understand how a gene is transferred through a population and how common it is.”

By characterizing populations of pathogens, Webb notes that they hope to identify those genes that are crucial in causing disease.

Webb adds that they have also worked on analyzing how pathogens infect sugarbeets. For example, using genetically modified versions of pathogens, they can observe growth of fungus to understand how it spreads and infects the plant. 

Stress resistance

Webb is also working to develop and distribute germplasm to seed companies to use in their breeding programs. The germplasm includes novel stress resistance genes.

“In my research, I work with plant breeder Dr. Lee Panella, who is focusing on the breeding and improvement of the germplasm,” says Webb. “He is looking at wild relatives of sugarbeet for sources of resistance, improved drought tolerance and some other agronomic characteristics.”

She continued that while Panella develops the background material necessary, seed companies develop his materials in developing commercial varieties

Webb detailed her work at Worland’s WESTI Ag Days,  on Feb. 5-6. Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Torrington – Western Sugar Cooperative officially announced their plans to cease processing sugarbeets at their facility in Torrington with the expansion of facilities Nebraska and Colorado.

The co-op will continue to store and package sugar in Torrington and will be maintaining approximately 22 positions in Torrington.

“The expansion of our Nebraska and Colorado facilities is really a key project for us to serve our customers and remain competitive,” says Western Sugar Cooperative Vice President and Director of Media Relations Heather Luther.

Current operation

The current sugarbeet manufacturing facility in Torrington processes over 650,000 tons of sugarbeets per year, says Western Sugar Cooperative
Torrington Facility Manager Tom Briggs.

“We slice about 5,000 tons a day,” he explains.

The facility currently employs approximately 200 people, making it a significant contributor to the economy of Torrington.

Sugarbeets are received from a wide swath of the western region, including Wheatland, Wellington, Colo., Kimball, Neb. and Ogallala, Neb.

“We have lots of receiving stations. It’s a very big area,” continues Briggs.


The Torrington sugarbeet processing facility is scheduled to be scaled back as Western Sugar Cooperative expands their operations at facilities in Scottsbluff, Neb. and Fort Morgan, Colo. this season.

Layoffs are currently planned to occur sometime this year, says Luther.

However, many variables will influence when layoffs actually occur and the partial closure of the manufacturing facility.

“It’s still up in the air to see how the other two plants are running,” says Briggs.

The co-op will remain in Torrington, however, as they transition the manufacturing facility to a packaging and storage facility.

“When we looked at it, we decided that we could get some synergies by adding a packaging line there,” says Luther.

Improving productivity

In recent years, Western Sugar Cooperative began looking at how to best improve productivity and reliability, explains Luther.

“We knew we needed to increase our efficiency and tried to figure out where to best do that, while considering where our growers are most located,” Luther continues.

The co-op decided to invest in capacity increases at their Neb. and Colo. facilities.

The other two facilities better match sugarbeet grower locations, she explains.

“It was really a way to optimize our footprint, increasing capacity for the growth of our company and matching it to where our growers are located.”

Torrington impacts

Western Sugar Cooperative is conscious of the impact of the sugar plant on the City of Torrington, says Luther.

“We’re very mindful that the Torrington facility is important to people in the region, so we tried to look at how we could best preserve the most jobs to service customers from our storage and packaging operations,” Luther continues.

Through scaling back the operating activities at the facility to a storage and packaging facility, the co-op will be able to preserve an estimated 22 positions at the facility.

Short-term, the City of Torrington will face revenue loss, says Goshen County Economic Development (GCEDC) Executive Director Ashley Harpstreith.

“Some of the parts that are going to be really tough for our community are the loss of electrical rates and the job loss,” says Harpstreith.

Briggs notes that while some jobs are being retained, Torrington residents will still be severely impacted by job losses.

“We’re still going to do a lot of warehousing and packaging here, but there will still be a lot of jobs that will be lost,” he says.

Harpstreith is hopeful that the future plans of the facility will be an attractant for other businesses to Torrington.

“The future landscape south of town looks different but not as grim as we anticipated. The future development of a powdered sugar line could be helpful in attracting other manufacturing companies that use powdered sugar as an ingredient,” continues Harpstreith.

Job placement

GCED notes that they are working to find job opportunities and job training in Goshen County for those affected by the layoffs.

“We will continue to coordinate with our partners and friends at Department of Workforce Services and Eastern Wyoming College to assist and organize efforts for the displaced workers with training and training grant opportunities,” says Harpstreith.

Harpstreith comments that numerous businesses around the area are already contacting GCED regarding job opportunities for displaced workers.

“I’m confident that those workers are going to find a home in Goshen County,” concludes Harpstreith.

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Worland – The Wyoming Sugar Cooperative in Worland has finished processing the 2009 sugar beet crop, and CEO Cal Jones says the year was challenged, but ended up with a “very good crop.”
“We had a good crop, despite some wet weather in early October,” says Jones. “We had a little rain and snow, plus a hard freeze early.”
He says the southern Big Horn Basin was fortunate in that a snow cover insulated the crop to a degree. “We were able to slow harvest down at that point and let the beets thaw out in the soil,” he says, adding that seemed to have helped and the cooperative’s growers were able to harvest all their acres.
“We ended up with a crop averaging 29 tons per acre,” says Jones. “And that was a record yield for us.”
However, he says the weather challenges also contributed to higher incidents of mud in the storage piles, which cause problems in the factory process with handling the mud.
“That slows things down, and it has an abrasion effect on the equipment,” he adds. “That means higher maintenance for us, and reduces the ability of the storage pile to properly ventilate, which results in increased storage losses.”
In addition to processing their own beets, Wyoming Sugar also took in beets from Western Sugar Cooperative. With growers in the north end of the Big Horn Basin, Western Sugar’s beets didn’t fare as well in the hard freeze. Jones explains that after a beet freezes it ruptures the tissues, rendering it unable to store properly.
“This was a unique opportunity for both of our companies and growers to get involved. We wanted to assist the growers in getting a larger percentage of their crop out,” says Jones, adding the “we’re all in this together” mentality spurred the partnership.
“We were able to receive and process a quantity of their beets,” he adds. “It worked for us, and I’m sure it did for them because it allowed them to get a higher percentage harvested.”
This winter some producers in the north end of the Big Horn Basin have turned cattle and sheep out on their fields to clean up some of the leftover beets that were unable to be harvested.
UW Powell Research and Extension Center Research Associate Randy Violett says as the ground has begun to thaw many producers in the area are discing to cut up the leftover beets as much as possible.
“As the ground thaws more they’ll plow them under, to bury them as deep as they can,” says Violett. “The issue this year will be not only nitrogen release, but also furrow irrigation.”
He says growers will bury the beets as much as they can so they don’t resurface when the field’s are reworked.
Of the livestock turned out this winter on the sugar beets, Violett says cattle are working the fields, taking the tops and crowns, which means the beets will still need to be cut up. However, he notes those that have turned sheep out on the beets are doing a little better because the sheep will consume more of the beet.
“The biggest issue is what the growers can plant behind those beets that won’t be affected by the late release of nitrogen,” says Violett, adding that malting barley has been considered, but may not be a good choice. “There’s a fear the nitrogen will release and cause high protein levels in the barley, with is not desirable.”
He says some growers will put in dry beans behind the beets, which will help some, but adds, “There’s still concern about the nitrogen, which might prolong the maturity of the bean.”
Violett says some growers are thinking about putting confection sunflowers behind the sugar beets, or spring wheat. He says North Dakota has had a similar experience to what the northern Big Horn Basin is facing this year, and they found soybeans worked the best behind beets.
“It will be an interesting spring for these growers,” says Violett.
Looking ahead to the 2010 growing season, Jones notes that Wyoming Sugar has gone to two-year contracts with growers to add stability for both their growers and their employees.
“That gives our growers the opportunity to plan ahead, and it gives the employees a comfort zone,” says Jones. “With the economic situation, the longer contracts add stability to the industry.”
Of this spring, Jones says the fields are still wet, but don’t have any snow cover. “We’re anxious to get in the field for the 2010 crop, and it won’t be long before they’re putting barley in around the area.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

After an usually warm harvest season, sugarbeet harvest finished in northwest Wyoming and Montana on Nov. 1 and is expected to be complete in southeast Wyoming, Nebraska and northern Colorado by Nov. 10.

“We had an extremely dry harvest, and it was also extremely warm,” comments Western Sugar Agricultural Manager Randall Jobman on the season. 

The warm harvest created additional challenges for harvesters and sugar companies alike. 

Warm weather

Jobman notes that October 2014 was very warm – and possibly one of the warmest on record. 

“We had to go through some heat scheduling this year,” he says. “We were open very early in the mornings and closed early in the day for 98 percent of October.”

Because beets should be stored at no higher than 50 degrees, when temperatures exceeded those levels, harvests stopped. 

“We took extraordinary measures to put the beets in the pile cool – at 50 degrees or below,” Jobman says. “Now we need the weather to cool off. In the perfect world, we’d like beets to lie in the pile at refrigerated temperatures – in the mid-30s to 40s.”

Sugar content

Though harvest was slowed by heat scheduling, Jobman mentions the crop is improved over last year’s levels. 

“The Lovell crop came in at over 26.5 tons per acre with a 17.42 percent sugar,” Jobman explains. “The sugar content is 18 percent better than last year.”

In Montana, producers saw yields at 33.5 tons per acre and sugar at 17.62 percent, or 17 percent better than one year ago.

“It was an extremely good harvest,” he adds. “Yields were slightly less than anticipated based on a few limited samples, but it was still a very good year.”

Jobman attributes the good harvest in Montana to timely planting and opportune rains. While rain near Lovell delayed planting this spring, the rest of the year went well for the area. 

South region

The south region of Western Sugar’s operations encompasses southeast Wyoming, eastern Nebraska and northern Colorado, and Agricultural Manager Jerry Darnell says harvest for the region was 95 percent complete as of Nov. 1. 

“We had a warm harvest with above normal temperatures,” Darnell explains, also noting that the region took measures to keep beets cool. “We did a lot of late night and early morning harvests when temperatures were suitable for long-term storage.”

Darnell welcomes the cool temperatures in the forecast for the next several weeks, adding, “Looking at the forecast, we will be in good shape for beet storage.”

Though harvest is not yet complete, Darnell notes that at this point, Nebraska and southeast Wyoming are on track for a 27.7-ton harvest, with 17.74 percent sugar. Colorado harvests will likely hit 31.3 tons per acre and 17.25 percent sugar.

Compared to last year, he says, “This year was a lot better. We had below normal sugar last year.”

Darnell marks temperature as the primary factor the improvement of the sugar content in the 2014 crop over 2013.

“We will hopefully wrap up our harvest by Nov. 10 with the last five percent,” he says. 

Sugarbeets will be processed until late February at both locations. 

Sugar pricing

With improved sugar content compared to a year ago, Jobman says, “Sugar pricing is also better than a year ago.”

The American Sugar Alliance reported on Oct. 7 that the 2014 crop year would end with a surplus of sugar. USDA also reported that America’s sugar stocks-to-use ratio was at 15.2 percent as of Sept. 30. 

“Stocks-to-use is a measurement of surplus, and in this case means that even if we didn’t produce another pound of sugar, there is enough leftover from the 2014 crop to meet 15.2 percent of America’s annual consumption,” the American Sugar Alliance said. 

Influencing factors

Sugar prices are also affected by imports.

Recently, U.S. sugar producers complained that Mexico’s subsidies for its sugar industry allowed the country to flood the U.S. sugar market with a cheap supply. As a result, in August, the U.S. imposed preliminary tariffs on the country’s sugar supply. 

However, on in an Oct. 28 Wall Street Journal article, it was reported that draft agreements have been signed between the U.S. and Mexico to ensure Mexican sugar doesn’t flood the U.S. market. 

The agreement would suspend any investigations into claims of unfairly traded exports, says the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“I am pleased that we were able to reach agreement in this important matter,” says Stefan Selig, under secretary of Commerce for International Trade. “The agreements should provide critical stability in a market that is important to both countries, while also ensuring that farmers and sugar refiners in the United States have an opportunity to compete on a level playing field.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Worland – A pair of ongoing promotional items marketed by Pepsi features sugar from Wyoming Sugar and Big Horn Basin beet growers as its star ingredient.
    According to Admiral Beverages Inc. Vice President Ed Hunter, the beverages Pepsi Throwback and Mountain Dew Throwback are the result of Pepsi’s desire to return to a nostalgic feel. Admiral Beverages is the franchise that manufactures and packages Pepsi products in the Worland factory.
    “In the old days we always used sugar in our sodas, so the idea with these brands was to use sugar, either in bulk or liquid,” says Hunter, noting the sugar replaces today’s usual high fructose corn syrup. “That goes along with the nostalgic graphics we’re using on the packaging.”
    Admiral Beverages oversees two production facilities – the one in Worland and one in Ogden, Utah. The Utah location has used liquid sugar to make their Throwback varieties, while the Worland facility has contracted with Wyoming Sugar for sugar in bulk.
    “In Worland we’re fortunate to have our own sugar company, Wyoming Sugar,” says Hunter. “The beet farmers here produce the sugar, and we buy directly from the co-op.”
    Hunter says there’s been a great partnership between the two entities. “It’s local business helping local business,” he says, adding. “The reception from farmers has been fantastic, as well as from the organizations associated with the production and distribution of sugar.”
    However good the reception has been, the Throwback series is only an eight-week offer that began in the beginning of June. “It remains to be seen whether we’ll carry it on,” says Hunter.
    Factoring into the decision to make more Throwback is the increased labor necessary to use bulk sugar. “It’s a little bit of a different concentrate in the formula, and it’s more difficult for us to produce because we buy the bulk sugar in large totes, which we put on forklifts that raise them to the top of the tanks and pour them in,” says Hunter. “The addition of high fructose corn syrup is built into the system. The extra labor costs go with the commitment to use regular sugar.”
    Hunter says Throwback can be purchased at grocery stores around Wyoming, and also throughout the U.S. “Some locations have sold out of what they produced, but we haven’t because we bought more raw materials, feeling that this product would go well in Wyoming given the partnership,” he says.
    Although the promotional is intended to run through July, Hunter says it’ll remain available as long as there is product left.
    “We’re looking into continuing the Throwback line, but there are a lot of things that relies on,” says Hunter, noting, “It costs us more to make it, and we can’t sell it for more, because consumers typically won’t pay more for a sugar-based versus high fructose corn syrup-based product,” he says.
    Hunter says the sugar aspect of the brand has been advertised both nationally and locally. “We’re advertising that it’s not only sugar, but it’s Wyoming sugar. We’re sensitive to promote the Wyoming farmers, and we want to make sure Wyoming gets as much of the credit as we can possibly give them.”
    “I wouldn’t say Pepsi will never do a sugar-based product again,” says Hunter. “Pepsi does a lot of innovative and creative brands and products, and you never know when they’ll come back to something similar.”
    Of the Worland location, Hunter says the franchise now touches seven states and chooses to keep its headquarters in Worland. “We make every Pepsi product here, including all trademark Pepsi and Mountain Dew brands,” he says, noting the facility also produces 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Snapple, A&W, Sunkist and Hawaiian Punch, among others. “We can’t live on one brand alone – we diversify with as many different things as we can.”
    The Worland plant also bottles its own Aquavista water. “That’s a big deal for us,” says Hunter. “The water comes from an artesian well coming from an aquifer in the Ten Sleep area. It’s a big seller for us.”
    Aquavista water is sold wherever Pepsi is sold, and Admiral Beverages also supplies bottled water to things like firefighting crews.
    “It’s a pretty exciting thing,” says Hunter of the Throwback partnership. “The beet growers are excited about it, and it’s been selling well. Everywhere we go we can see a beet grower with a Throwback in his hand.”
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..