Beet harvest

As the snow set in Wednesday, Oct. 9, area beet producers use tractors to pull semi-trucks through the mud beside the digger during sugar beet harvest.

An addendum was added to the harvest contract between the Montana Dakota Beet Growers Association and Sidney Sugars this year in order to accept frozen sugar beets. Those beets are being processed first. Both parties agree it was a necessary agreement with the hardships of this year’s harvest.

“We met with the grower board and agreed to harvest the beets that were frozen,” Dave Garland, general manager at Sidney Sugars, said. “Normally these aren’t beets that we would have taken.”

In total, 186,739 net tons of frozen beets were harvested. Of those, 108,000 tons were processed as normal. Grower beets account for 78,400 tons.

“We’ve processed all the Sidney beets, the 108,000 [tons],” Garland said. “Now we’re into the grower beets, the 78,000. We’ve processed 26,000 [tons] of those so far, with 52,000 [tons] remaining.”

Garland said the frozen beets are currently processing well and if they continue to do well, they can be done with them in just over a week. With beet harvest wrapped up and processing underway, it’s important temperatures remain cold for the remainder of the beets.

“Keep in mind last week’s temperatures were well above what we were hoping to see,” Garland said. “We are seeing significant juicing from the piles.”

Don Steinbeisser Jr., Sidney director of the Montana Dakota Beet Growers Association, isn’t necessarily experiencing optimism this season, but he does believe the majority of the beets will get processed by Sidney Sugars.

“I think they’re going to get at least the majority of them done,” he said. “They’re keeping their word as far as trying really hard to get them processed.”

The health of the beets sitting in pile isn’t a concern for Steinbeisser, who said the beets were in good condition coming in and they won’t be sitting much longer. Scott Buxbaum, president of Montana Dakota Beet Growers Association, expressed mild concerns about the sitting beet piles.

“There has been some deterioration of the piles. There has been a little bit of juice running out on some of the edges of the piles,” he said. “We’re hoping for cold weather, which we’re getting now, and that should help.”

Buxbaum said there is some pol difference due to beet deterioration, which refers to the amount of sugar that went into the pile versus the amount of sugar that is coming out of the pile.

For this year’s harvest, Buxbaum thought area growers got three different types of harvest for the price of one. There was “normal” harvest, “freeze” beets, and the “freeze addendum” beets. From a grower’s perspective, the addendum was the only option they had to get those beets out of the ground.

“Basically what it says is that the company will pile the beets, they will process the beets, but if it gets to a point where the beets are too deteriorated to process economically, then they will load the beets onto farmer trucks,” Buxbaum said. “The farmer would be responsible to remove his percentage of the beets that are discarded.”

Buxbaum said another challenge of 2019 beet harvest was the long waits at beet dumps, where some drivers sat up to four hours in line. The Growers Association is working with Sidney Sugars to solve some of those issues for next year.

In total, a net of 944,000 tons of sugar beets were harvested this year. An estimated 1,200 acres went unharvested, but most of those acres were covered under insurance, Garland said.

Duane Peters, agriculture manager with Sidney Sugars, said harvest officially ended on Tuesday, Nov. 5, this year. There was an average of 32 tons per acre and an average sugar content of 17 percent.

“Weather was a huge factor for the 2019 sugar beet harvest,” Peters said. “Several delays were caused due to frost and then mud from the above norm precip that we got in September… it made for the receiving stations and fields to have the difficult times experienced during harvest.”

Peters said the moisture also delayed the start of harvest, which was expected to start Sept. 20. All five stations weren’t officially running until Oct. 7.

As far as potential disaster relief, Peters said they’d like to see something like that, but for all crops in the area, not just sugar beets.

“This weather we had this fall, this affected everything. Wheat, corn, sugar beets,” he said. “So to see something done like that, I think it would be helpful to the growers.”

Buxbaum said he’s been in touch with many entities about a possible disaster declaration, but doesn’t know if it will happen.

“It’s going to depend on how these beets process,” he said. “The majority of the beets did get out of the ground, so I don’t know if there would be the criteria there for a disaster or not at this point.”

Steinbeisser said it’s going to be a tough year for all area growers.

“If you’re one of the guys like us who had to leave beets in the ground, our profit is pretty much out in the field. We’re going to not get paid to work this year,” Steinbeisser said. “Just about every crop got affected… The last time it was this tough with beet harvest was 1959, before I was born. I hope it’s at least that long before we have a bad one like this again.”

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