Sugar beets could see sweet harvest, unless spoiled by water or heat |

Sugar beets could see sweet harvest, unless spoiled by water or heat

Widespread moisture hitting sugar beet fields in Nebraska and Colorado dashed producers' abilities to get out in the field consistently during the early harvest. In Colorado, sugar beet growers started harvesting around Sept. 10, and in Nebraska, they began on Sept. 15. In both states, weather has restricted consistent harvesting.

With the regular harvest season for sugar beet growers for the Western Sugar Cooperative starting Oct. 9, growers like Ryder Jenik, president of the NEBCO Beet Growers Association, are racing the clouds to get in the field.

"Any more added moisture would pose a problem for us," Jenik said.

If it rains much more, the resulting mud could cause significant issues in the field. Jenik said the soft, saturated ground could complicate the ability to get trucks into the field to deliver the beets, reduce the quality of the field and make the beets themselves come out dirtier, which then would complicate the storage process. In addition, more moisture could mean less sugar within the beets, as sometimes, sodden soil can reduce sugar levels.

How the next several weeks will go depends on the weather, Jenik said. As harvest continues, growers will get a better understanding of their crop's quality and size.

Though Jenik farms primarily in and around the Sedgwick County area in Colorado, he said the problems producers face in this harvest transcend state lines.

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"Beet harvest, it's all the same, just depends on where you're at," he said, adding that his challenges are comparable to those other of farmers within the NEBCO Beet Growers Association in the Big Springs, Neb. area.

This year, farmers are facing a larger crop than in recent years, something Jenik said had a large impact on the early start date for beet reaping.

"That was the reason for the early harvest (being) as early as it was, to start getting some beets out," Jenik said.

Western Sugar growers were 17 percent finished with the harvest in Nebraska and 15 percent finished in Colorado as of Oct. 9, according to Jerry Darnell, agricultural manager with Western Sugar. Sugar levels in the beets in Nebraska are average about 16.7 percent, up slightly from the 16 percent levels in Colorado, he said.

"Compared to a year ago, it's a lot better," Darnell said. "Overall it's on track (to be) a little better than an average crop."

In addition to rain worries, warm weather poses an additional challenge to the ongoing harvest. Darnell said producers have had to stop working in the afternoon because the temperature raises too high, and when the sugar beets get warm, they cannot be stored properly.

Another obstacle sugar beet producers face is labor shortages.

"Every year is always a challenge," Darnell said. He explained that since the sugar beet industry uses temporary, seasonal labor, there are always difficulties in filling those positions.

Jenik said one of the reasons for this year's struggle is competition for manpower with the oil and gas industry.

"We're dealing with it everyday," he said. "Trying to get truck drivers and quality operators is becoming very difficult at the moment, trying to compete with the oil fields. We're losing drivers daily, it feels like."

Jenik said that despite the unpredictable nature of, well, nature, producers will likely see a good quality crop. That, combined with the larger projected size of the harvest, is good news for farmers still rebounding from low beet prices and natural disasters last year.

"It's going to be a good one, I hope. The farmers need a good harvest," he said.

Jenik's farm was one of several that lost a portion of their crop to the flooding in Colorado last September.

"We left a circle of beets in the ground last year," he said. "That was a pretty serious economic hit."

Now, though he still must rebuild infrastructure, irrigation and revitalize ground quality, Jenik maintains a positive outlook.

"Overall, everybody came through it all right, so that's the only way to really look at it," he said.

In addition, the upward trend in sugar prices is good news for farmers.

"It's going to have a good impact. We've seen sugar prices rebound from last year. They were at forfeiture level," Darnell said. "It's going to be a good, economical crop for the growers."

Western Sugar's projections put Nebraska at harvesting 1.5 million tons of sugar beets and Colorado harvesting 1 million.

"Right now, it's just a really good, clean, quality crop coming in from both states," Darnell said. "We're really pleased with the harvest. ❖