TORRINGTON – Another sugar beet harvest has arrived.
It will be the 15th for the Western Sugar Cooperative, formed in 2002, with growers and processing facilities at Billings, Mont., Lovell, Scottsbluff, Neb., and Fort Morgan, Colo., in addition to Torrington.
Early harvest will begin in Torrington on Sept. 5, earlier than in the past, because of the large 2017 crop.
The announcement was made by Western’s Vice President of Agriculture Jerry Darnell, in Scottsbluff.
“It’s the earliest we’ve ever started, and this is one of the biggest crops we’ve had,” Darnell said during a recent telephone interview from Billings, Mont., where the Cooperative’s board of directors were meeting.
“This could be a record crop,” he said.
Scottsbluff will begin processing beets on Sept. 12, Darnell said, while regular harvest will begin throughout the Panhandle and eastern Wyoming on Oct. 16.
Results of the latest root samples indicate a 33.6-ton per acre crop, with a 17.5 percent sugar content. A final root sample will be taken Aug. 30.
Darnell said that, for the most part, weather during the 2017 growing season had been favorable, with only pockets of hail damage.
He also announced some personnel changes. The company’s new vice president of operations is Parker Thilmony. Locally, Tracey Bentley returns to Western as production supervisor, and Jeff Kava, formerly of Mendak Sugar at Wahpeton, N.D., will bring his 30 years of experience as the new Scottsbluff factory manager.
The 2016 early harvest began Sept. 15, with regular harvest commencing on Oct. 6. Weather conditions and difficulties in bringing the newly updated Scottsbluff factory on line, caused production delays that negatively impacted the local crop. Processing ended in late February.
Declaration aids producers
Even though economic issues plagued the cooperative last year, producers in the Lovell–area received some relief with loans from the Wyoming Business Council.
According to a statement from the WBC, during a special call-in meeting on Aug. 3, the Council’s board of directors unanimously approved an economic disaster declaration, and up to $5,396,750 in loans for sugar beet producers in northwest Wyoming.
The 10-year loans will include 3.5 percent in annual interest.
The Western Sugar Cooperative submitted the loan request following intense fall rains and a hard winter freeze stretching from December through February, which devastated the grower-owned cooperative’s sugar
Growers in Goshen, Laramie and Platte counties, whose crops experienced pile rot resulting from an unusually warm February, were not eligible for an economic disaster declaration and loans.
In an accompanying statement regarding the August announcement, WBC Board Co-Chairman Cactus Covello of Torrington, said, “We worked really hard to find a way to qualify the southeastern growers. We are limited in how we can help because of the way the law defines a disaster. Obviously, our growers in Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties are just as important to us as our northern growers.”
Wyoming statute defines “economic disaster” as “an event occurring in Wyoming that has an economic impact with total lost revenues to impacted businesses in a 12-calender-month period of at least $4 million or an economic impact with total lost revenues to impacted businesses in four or less counties in a 12-calendar-month period of at least $1 million.”
In March, the board unanimously approved an economic disaster declaration and up to $5,675,650 in loans to support the 60 families with ownership stakes in Wyoming Sugar, an agricultural cooperative in Big Horn, Fremont and Washakie counties. The request was made in the wake of the same intense rains and hard winter freezes that struck Western Sugar’s northwest Wyoming growers.