Northern Colorado sugar beet crop expected to produce average yields |

Northern Colorado sugar beet crop expected to produce average yields

ERIC BELLAMY / ebellamy@greeleytribune.comSugar beets pour onto the pile at the North Greeley Pile Grounds. The harvest of this year's sugar beets looks to be an average crop for Weld County farmers, after setting records the past several years.

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Average numbers might be a little tough for sugar beet producers to swallow these days, but they just might have to, farmers and experts agree.

“Whether farmers want to hear it or not, I’m not thinking we’re going to see the kind of yields we’ve seen the last couple years,” said Mike Otto, senior agriculturalist with Western Sugar Company, comparing this year’s expected sugar beet yields in Colorado with those of the record-setting yields that came out of the state’s recent sugar beet harvests.

In 2010, Colorado farmers set a state record by recording yields of 29.5 tons per acre, topping the previous record high yield set in 2009, which was 27.5 tons per acre. In 2008, farmers had set a then-record for yields with 26.5 tons per acre.

But this year’s Colorado crop – which began being harvested last week – is expected to be back down around the 10-year average, which is 24.8 tons per acre.

“We might get a little above average out here, but not by much if we do,” said Dave Rupple, a Keenesburg area farmer who planted about 500 acres of sugar beets this year. “That’s not bad at all, but not what we’ve been used to the last couple years.

“I’ll certainly still take it though.”

With harvest going through early November, it will be a while before final yields are known in Colorado. However, some farmers are already getting results back regarding another important number when it comes to sugar beet harvest: sugar content.

Rupple said Friday he had received his first sugar-content results from Western Sugar for one of the loads he had hauled in earlier that week, noting that the content of sugar in those beets was 16.5 percent.

Sugar content determines how much a farmer gets paid by Western Sugar for their crop. The more sugar, the better.

Rupple said he likes to see his sugar percentages in the 16.5 to 18 range. He noted that last year, while sugar beets were setting records for yields, the sugar content of some of his crops was pushing 19 percent.

“We just had awfully good weather conditions and good results all around last year,” Rupple noted. “Everything turned out great.”

As Rupple and Otto explained, the extreme heat in August this year hindered the crop’s progress, while last year’s summer conditions weren’t nearly as extreme.

The hope now is that the weather will be cool through the rest of the harvest, Otto said.

He explained that beets are a biennial plant – a flowering plant that takes two years to complete its biological life cycle, even though it’s harvested by farmers every year. Since sugar beets are designed to survive through the winter, the cooler weather sends signals to the beet to store more sugar for the winter.

Otto said it would be ideal for the crop if day temperatures through the rest of harvest stayed in the 50s and 60s, and night temperatures were in the 30s.

While ideal temperatures could help improve the sugar content at this point, local farmers are content with the crop they have so far.

“As things are, it’s looking to be pretty to be solid,” said Frank Eckhardt, a La Salle area farmer. “A little help from the weather during the rest of harvest would be fine, but it’s looking to be pretty good either way.”

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