POWELL — Local sugar beet farmers who were hit with losses in 2018 and 2019 due to poor weather are receiving some support from the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP+) recently provided $285 million to beet growers across the country.
Western Sugar Cooperative — made up of more than 850 growers and shareholders in the Powell, Lovell and Heart Mountain areas, along with others in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Nebraska — received $69 million of that allocation. The distributions to area farmers went out in April, which will provide growers funding to start planting the new crop of sugar beets.
The cooperative lost over 30% of its sugar in 2019 due to late fall weather events.
“The disaster aid was financially critical for many growers given the devastating snowstorms and related freeze events the past two harvest seasons that impacted both the quantity and quality of the sugar beets,” Western Sugar CEO Rodney Perry said in a statement.
Ric Rodriguez, Western Sugar Board of Directors member, said the payments won’t make up for lost profits, but “it did come close to recovering our cost of production following the disastrous weather we had in the last two crop years.”
“I think most growers are extremely happy about the payment amount,” he added.
Rodriguez commended the cooperative management team for its efforts in pushing the application through the federal process. He said Perry, Western Sugar Vice President and Chief Scientist Rebecca Larson and CFO Jason Bridges were instrumental in getting approval and securing the most funding possible.
Perry estimates Western Sugar growers will plant around 111,000 acres this season, which is slightly up from last year.
He said the vast majority of the industry was impacted by the same weather events as Western Sugar, and it was an industry-wide effort to secure the WHIP+ funding.
“I want to thank all of our congressmen and women from Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana for the support they showed to get relief for our growers,” Perry said.
He specifically expressed thanks to Sen. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, and U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Bill Northey for their roles in getting the funding.