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Sugar Beets

    This spring’s unusually cool temperatures have not only caused some farmers to delay planting, but others in southeast Wyoming are now replanting after a period containing several nights below freezing.
    “Before it’s over, it’ll be easier to count the ones we don’t replant,” says Torrington sugarbeet farmer Steve Feagler. “We identified half of ours that need to be replanted, and the others need to be watched closely in the next couple of days.”
    “Every Saturday night for the last three weeks we’ve had a hard freeze,” says Western Sugar Cooperative Agricultural Manager Jerry Darnell. “Our growers will have to replant approximately 50 percent of their acreage.”
    The first freeze came April 27 when 890 acres around Gordon, Neb. were frozen. Then a storm May 1 and 2 took a third of the spring’s acreage.
    “The sugarbeets that survived the first freeze got frozen in the second,” says Feagler. “In the first go-round there were around 12,000 acres lost, and now I think it’s up considerably.”
    Darnell says affected farmers in southeast Wyoming and southwestern Nebraska are in the process of replanting. “Normally we don’t have to worry about freezing after May 10, but this year we had one of the freezes after that date,” he notes.
    Another complication added to the replanting equation is the shortage of Roundup Ready seed. This is the first spring the seed has been commercially available, but in a limited quantity because of its recentness.
    This spring Roundup Ready seed occupied about 90 percent of Western Sugar’s beet acreage.
    “We’re going to get about 60 to 70 percent of the acreage replanted to Roundup Ready sugarbeets,” estimates Darnell. “The remainder will be filled in with conventional varieties.”
    Crop insurance will cover a portion of the loss, but Feagler says it’s generally very poor. “Crop insurance pays $35 per acre for replanting, and the cost of seed alone is probably $80 to $90,” he says. “The insurance payments will barely cover the fuel and equipment costs.”
    “Under our contract with Western Sugar we have to replant sugarbeets until May 20,” says Feagler. “Any crop loss prior to that date has to be replanted under the contract, so the acreage is obligated.”
    According to some estimates, growers will have to invest as much as $168 per acre to replant.
    Prior to the freezes, area growers were already short on moisture. “We’ve been getting just enough to keep us going, but not enough to do any good,” comments Feagler. “The beets were behind with the cool weather. Even before the freezes they would have been 10 days to two weeks late for harvest.”
    Feagler says Memorial Day weekend usually witnesses blocking and thinning, “but this year I would have been happy to see them coming up down the row.”
    Darnell says the unaffected 50 percent of the crop was just beginning to emerge in mid-May. Ninety-six percent of the crop was planted at the time of the freezes.
    Minimal damage to alfalfa and wheat has been reported from the freeze, with minor burning of leaves. Feagler says corn was still in the germination stage so it escaped the cold temperatures unharmed.
    “Growers are now under a lot of pressure to get in a crop that will show any profit,” says Feagler. “Sugar prices are and have been flat, and on a late crop, yields will be down 20 percent or more. Anyone who breaks even on beets this year is going to be pretty lucky.”
    “We’re not back to normal temperatures, and I’m afraid we’ll get another front in a week and see the same thing happen again,” says Feagler.
    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..
Casper — Reports from a variety of sources indicate the 2008 sugar beet crop in Wyoming brought records yields to farmers, due in part to the widespread use of Roundup Ready technology.
    “We had a tremendous crop,” says Wyoming Sugar CEO Cal Jones. “We had records in yields, 26 tons per acre, and content, 17.5 percent.” Wyoming Sugar collected slightly less than 10,000 acres of beets from Washakie, Big Horn and Fremont counties.
    “We had a record crop here at Worland for Wyoming Sugar,” says Washakie Beet Growers President John Snyder, attributing that to weather conditions, genetics, grower care and attention and Roundup Ready seed.
    In the Lovell area farmers pulled 24.4 tons of beets out of every acre with a sugar content of 17.16 percent. Yields reported by Western Sugar, which contracts beets in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming, averaged 22 to 26 tons per acre with 16 to 17 percent sugar.
    Western anticipates 90 percent of its 2009 sugar acres will be planted in Roundup Ready seed. According to Syngenta Chief Executive Michael Mack, the decision last year to begin selling biotech sugar beet seed in the U.S. has been extremely profitable. In an interview with Dow Jones Newswires, Mack said Syngenta’s U.S. market share for sugar beet seed rose to 35 percent in 2008, up from 19 percent.
    “Farmers flocked to our germplasm and traits,” said Mack. The USDA approved herbicide-resistant sugar beets in 2005, but they took a while to gain popularity because food and environmental groups raised concerns about the safety of sugar made from genetically modified beets. Litigation continues on the sugar technology, however, most countries with major sugar beet markets have approved herbicide- resistant varieties for use.
    “It was our second year for Roundup Ready near Worland, as we were part of the limited launch in 2007,” says Snyder. “Our growers are certainly liking it, and it’s another tool in the toolbox for them to use.”
    Lovell sugar beet producer and a member of the Western Sugar Board of Directors, Ric Rodriguez says well over half of the beets in his area were Roundup Ready varieties in 2008.
    “They tended to yield a lot better than the conventional beets. We had a really late spring, and it was cold, but they came out of it a lot better than the conventional varieties that we had to spray two or three times,” says Rodriguez. “They were just a healthier beet that took off when it did get warm.”
    The completion of the 2008 Farm Bill contained several important provisions for U.S. sugar beet producers.
    “The Farm Bill was a real benefit to growers and sugar producers,” says Rodriguez. “There were a few good things that happened in the Farm Bill, for a change.”
    “One of the things in the Farm Bill was a slight increase in the loan rate, as well as a provision in the bill that says 85 percent of U.S. sugar consumption has to be from U.S.-produced sugar,” says Snyder. He says the percentage usually runs right around 85, but now it’s in writing because of increased pressure from trade agreements.
    “Another important aspect is that the USDA cannot accept, except under emergency situations, imported sugar above and beyond what’s agreed to in WTO until after April 1,” says Snyder. “That gives them more, and better, information on which to base their supply projections.”
    Previously the USDA could draw conclusions and announce the importation of foreign sugar at any time, a move that has caused the market to drop significantly. “A lot of times they’d make announcements of additional imports when the market didn’t need it,” says Snyder.
    By waiting until April, most of the processing from the year before is complete and planting intentions are generally known, which gives the USDA better information on which to base their decisions.
    According to Western, which represents 1,400 growers, 2009 is shaping up to be another good year. That optimism is based primarily on two factors, including strong worldwide demand for sugar and additional Roundup Ready varieties.
    In November 2008 Milling and Baking News reported bulk beet sugar in the Midwest was going for 35 cents per pound. Western expects upward movement in wholesale sugar prices in 2009. According to Paul Burgener, agricultural economist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the 2009 grower price for sugar beets is projected to be $45 to $50 per ton with a break-even cost of $35 to $40 per ton.
    Rodriguez says he expects planting of Roundup Ready varieties to be “significantly higher” in 2009. “With three years of data now instead of two, we’ve now got some better varieties coming in this year.”
    Snyder says he expects Wyoming Sugar to contract close to the same acreage in 2009 as in 2008.
    “A lot of the growers in Wyoming and in other areas are optimistic about the sugar market right now, and so far it looks pretty good,” says Snyder, noting that sugar beets are still a consistent crop to rely upon. “Last year sugar beets lagged behind other commodities, but now they’re more even as sugar beets have pulled ahead a little and the others have fallen behind where they were.”
    “We’re optimistic to have another good year,” says Rodriguez.
    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..

According to University of Nebraska-Lincoln Range Management Cow/Calf Specialist Karla Jenkins, using chopped sugarbeets may be an economical option for cattle producers that have access to waste beets.


“Sugarbeet pulp is a highly digestible fibrous byproduct that’s available October to February as the sugar is being taken out of the sugarbeets and processed for human consumption,” explained Jenkins.

Alternatively, feeding sugarbeets, as Jenkins has studied, involved whole beets that are unacceptable for human consumption and are then available for cattle.

There are several nutritional differences between sugarbeet pulp and whole beets, she continued.

“The biggest nutritional difference is that the crude protein and neutral detergent fiber is much lower on the whole sugarbeet, but the in vitro dry matter disappearance, which is similar to total digestible nutrients (TDN), is a about 86 percent and is a little higher than the beet pulp,” said Jenkins.


In the study, the shredded beets were mixed with wet distiller’s grains and wheat straw.

“The diets that we wanted to compare for those cows was a diet that either contained 20 percent whole sugarbeets or 20 percent corn, 60 percent straw and 20 percent wet distiller’s grains,” said Jenkins.

The diets varied from 9.7 to 10.7 percent crude protein, but the amount of dry matter fed was adjusted so each group was fed the same amount of TDN.

Rations were fed to study groups in a dry lot setting in controlled amounts.

During the second year of the study, Jenkins explained that a slightly different strategy was used for preparing the beet ration.

“The second year of the study, we used fresh beets that were not beginning to rot,” she continued. “We only mixed it with the straw and then added the distiller’s grains later when we fed the diet.”


“The challenge for producers is that most of them do not want to mix the complete diet as we did in the research trial,” commented Jenkins, noting that the question then becomes how much straw must be mixed in to store the beets.

Jenkins advised that several management strategies are critical for successfully storing the sugarbeets.

“Removing air pockets is important, so we get some fermentation but not spoilage. Keeping the dry matter content of the pile between 35 and 50 percent is important, as well,” she said.

A producer that elected to experiment on his own reported that he mixed 20,000 pounds of straw and 52 tons of rotting beets on an as-is basis.

“That mixture resulted in a feed that was about 67 percent TDN but only 4.1 percent crude protein. It was 43 percent dry matter,” continued Jenkins.

While the diet would not be good to feed without a protein supplement, Jenkins noted that it would be a good diet from a storage standpoint.


The research group used over the two years of the study included mature pregnant cows.

“These cows were due to calve in July, so this trial ran from April to June, as we wanted to catch that last part of gestation before they calved,” explained Jenkins.

She noted that there was no significant difference between initial body weight or body condition score for either the sugarbeet group or the corn group when the trial was started.

“There were no treatment differences in June when we weighed them off of the trial, but we can see that both the sugarbeet and corn groups gained a little condition score on these diets,” said Jenkins.


Jenkins noted that producers should take several cautions into consideration when feeding sugarbeets.

“Number one, the pieces need to be small enough to prevent choking,” she said. “The good news is that the rotting beets tend to be softer than the fresh beets and probably pose less of a hazard for choking.”

Sugarbeets that have been handled several times on soil have accumulated ash content, continued Jenkins.

“If the beets themselves are included at a very high level in the diet, it could cause some problems for the cattle,” commented Jenkins, “but if the dry matter of just the beets in the diet is between 20 and 30 percent of that final diet dry matter, they should be able to avoid any problems that they might have with ash contamination.”

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..

After a year that has been difficult for many people in agriculture, sugar beet growers in north central and southeast Wyoming are posting good yields of high sugar content beets.
    “Sugar beet harvests have been great this year,” comments Western Sugar Cooperative’s Director of Shareholder Relations Kent Wimmer. “Yield and sugar content are both well above average.”
2012 harvest
    In Wyoming, Western Sugar Cooperative has two processing facilities – one in Lovell and one in Torrington. The company also owns three facilities in Colorado, Montana and Nebraska for a total of five processing facilities.
    “We are virtually done with harvest in the north central part of Wyoming,” Wimmer says of the Lovell processing facility. “We are going to end up with a little over 30.1 tons per acre, which is extremely good.”
    The region also marked a crop that was about 17.7 percent sugar.
    “We are really pleased with the crop,” he adds.
    Powell farmer Trent Reed agrees, saying, “I think overall we had a decent crop. It was better than last year, as far as tonnage and sugar, but it wasn’t quite as good as we had hoped.”
    Reed notes that the weekend of Oct. 20-21 marked the end of beet harvest for their operation and most of the Big Horn Basin.
    The Torrington facility, though not done with harvest yet, has seen similarly good yields.
    “We are at a 29-ton per acre crop with a 17.6 percent sugar content,” Wimmer notes. “We are about 78 to 80 percent done with harvests in the Torrington area.”
Sugar content
    In order to achieve the high sugar content of beets, Wimmer notes that there are a number of factors that must be considered.
    “The length of the growing season and prolonged, non-interrupted growth are important,” he explains. “This year, we had nothing but sunshine and a lot of heat units with very little adverse weather.”
    All of those factors are important for a good crop.
    Reed adds that temperature is a major factor, and fertilizer use also plays a role.
    “If producers use too much fertilizer, the beets will produce more tons, instead of increasing sugar content,” he explains.
    “This year, we had to water more than normal,” he says, “but we hit the watering just right so things turned out well. The beets grew better, utilizing all of the fertilizer, so we had good tonnage and good sugar content.”
A consumer product
    Both processing facilities will continue operating through the winter to February, and Wimmer notes that the Torrington processing plant will likely operate well into the month, producing a sugar product that makes up over 10 percent of the U.S. beet sugar.
    As for where the fully processed sugar will be headed, Wimmer says, “A lot of the Wyoming sugar comes down into the Colorado and Denver markets. We also provide sugar from the Lovell plant into the Pacific northwest.”    
    Western Sugar Cooperative’s products are sold under the GW label, as well as under private label lines, and the company provides granulated, light and dark brown sugar, as well as powdered sugar and sugar packets to consumers.
Looking forward
    In order for the sugar industry to be successful, however, Wimmer adds that the Farm Bill passage is vital.
    “We are very concerned about the Farm Bill right now,” he says. “We utilize the sugar title of the farm bill, and we hope that Congress will pass the bill as it came out of the Senate.”
    He also adds that the North American Free Trade Agreement also affects the sugar industry, and Mexico’s unlimited access to U.S. sugar markets plays a big role in the success of sugar.
    At the same time as policy and trade affect the sugar industry, Wimmer notes that environmental concerns still play a role in the ability of Western Sugar to produce a final, sellable product.
    “We need things to cool off now because we have to store these beets outside,” adds Wimmer, noting that they rely on nature’s refrigerator to store beets until they can be processed. “But we are starting to see some cooler weather with shorter days and winter coming.”
    For more information on Western Sugar Cooperative or making sugar from sugar beets, visit 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— Severe weather earlier in the month yielded mixed results for Wyoming sugar beet growers as the harvest got into full swing.
    Snow and freezing temperatures in the low teens in the Big Horn and Shoshone Basins caused freeze damage to beets and has hindered digging. The storm came just weeks after a report from the National Ag Statistics Service predicted a record sugar beet harvest for Wyoming.
    According to the Oct. 1 forecast, Wyoming growers were on track to harvest a record 780 thousand tons, up 17 percent from 2008. An estimated average of 26 tons per acre for 2009 also tops last year’s high of 24.5 tons per acre.
    Warmer temperatures mid-October were helping some beets recover, but the drying, muddy ground is slowing down the restart of the harvest.
    Growers for Western Sugar Cooperative began delivering beets under an allotment schedule Oct. 15. This limits how many beets a grower can deliver in a seven-day period. Allotments are designated to individual growers based on the amount of acres the grower has under contract with the cooperative. Under this allotment schedule, some growers might not deliver their full crop until the end of the year, and some beets will be left in the ground.
    Weather also affected growers in southeast Wyoming and western Nebraska, shutting down their harvest for several days.
    Frost can cause damage to beet tops and makes it difficult to defoliate the crop. Long-term exposure to extreme cold harms sugar content and causes problems during storage and processing. Frozen beets must be stored separately from other beets, because the moisture they release can cause rotting. Frozen beets must be processed a few days after being dug, rather than piled indefinitely.
    Growers in Washakie and southern Big Horn counties fared the storm better than other parts of the state, however.
    “The Worland area didn’t get as cold as it did up north, and we had more snow to insulate and protect the beets. We did see a little freeze in the crowns,” explains John Snyder with the Washakie Beet Growers Association. Beets can survive some freeze damage and slightly recover, provided the cold doesn’t kill the plants’ foliage.
    “Conditions are extremely wet right now, but we are back in full harvest and back to stockpiling beets,” says Synder.
    Cal Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Wyoming Sugar Company, estimates the harvest in the Worland area is about 40 percent complete.
    The harvest for the entire state is about a third of the way completed. USDA crop conditions estimate a majority of Wyoming’s sugar beets are still in fair to excellent condition, but 21 percent of the crop is listed in poor or very poor condition.
    Worland area farmers are glad they escaped the worst of the weather.
    “The snow actually helped protect the beets so the damage here wasn’t as severe. So far it looks like a very high yielding crop,” says Johnson.
    For now, beet farmers are hoping for those critical sunny days and dry weather to help bring in the remainder of the harvest and salvage what should have been Wyoming’s best crop in decades.
    Teresa Milner is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..