Lawmakers seek assistance for lost beet crop

LOVELL — Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, as well as Reps. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, and Mike Greear, R-Worland, have signed a letter to Gov. Mark Gordon to request assistance for local farmers after a suspended harvest has left 31 percent on local beets in the ground. 

According to Kost, such efforts might include a disaster declaration, which would allow the state to seek federal funds for those impacted. 

“I’ve signed a letter to the governor on the beet situation and the amount of loss between Big Horn County and Park County. It’s looking like almost 31 percent of the sugar crop was unable to get out of the ground,” Kost said. “With that being the case, the group of us, we’re looking to see how we can do something to get some relief for our farmers.” 

Western Sugar Cooperative halted the beet harvest in late November, stating that all the sugar beets remaining in the ground would not be processed in the factory. The halt was caused by freezing temperatures in October that damaged the local crop.

The Powell Tribune last week quoted Western Sugar Board Vice Chairman Ric Rodriguez stating that 31 percent of beets would go unharvested, mirroring Kost’s statistic.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated on November 3 that Wyoming’s sugar beet harvest was 70 percent complete, with producers harvesting 30,600 acres before the end of the year. That would represent a 100-acre drop from 2018.

“My biggest concern is, if they just say ‘Hey, we’ll just give you some low interest loans,’ that’s not going to help, because right now, these guys are really hurting. How can we help them so they can continue in their farming endeavors without losing everything?” Kost said. “I think come spring we have a lot of people who might be having auctions because they just don’t have the means to make it.”

Kost also expressed concerns about factory operations, which will likely be shortened due to the limited harvest.

“It’s very possible, by (the end of) December, the Lovell plant may have finished their season. That’s a huge change. On top of that, what does that do to the economy of that plant?” Kost said. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions and we have to see if we can help out.”

Kost said that the group of lawmakers are not pursuing any one solution at the moment, but are simply determining avenues for relief.

Stan Asay, who farms near Lovell, said this season’s freezing temperatures has been one in a series of blows to local farmers. 

“Beets are a crash crop, and everything else is depressed right now, other crops and cattle are depressed,” Asay said. “I was hoping to have a good year to carry everything, and it’s not something I’m going to get.”

Asay has crop insurance, but he said he doubts the payment he’ll get from the lost crop will match what he would receive if the crop had been harvested. 

It’s been a difficult situation already due to earlier freezing spells damaging the crop that was harvested, resulting in more manpower needed to harvest the crop and less sugar able to be harvested. 

Last year’s crop was also damaged by the hailstorm last summer, Asay said. 

One bad year can be absorbed, he said. It’s a much more difficult situation when it’s two years in a row. 

“It’s hard to put up with this for two years,” Asay said. 

In the end, Asay said, the solution will largely be the same as it always is for farmers. 

“You hope for a good year next year,” Asay said. “That’s how farming goes.”