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Early freeze slows sugar beet harvest

The sugar beet harvest is moving slowly, after the snow on Oct. 14, followed by freezing temperatures in the single digits.

Even with the weather delay, Jerry Darnell, Western Sugar vice president of agriculture for the South Region said the harvest is still 50 percent done. Last year the factory was also 50 percent done at this time, with hot weather delays.

The factory has been accepting beets from area farmers, but only as much as it can process daily.

“We’re only buying a small amount every day to supply the factory,” he said. “When you have a real hard freeze, the beets will only keep a week, and we don’t want to take a chance, of beets spoiling.”

Many of the growers are also waiting for the fields to dry out and the beets to heal, to get back in the fields.

“We had about five or six inches of snow, insulating the beets,” said Chris Cullan, Hemingford beet grower. “The problem was we got down in the single digits and the beets are frozen from the ground up.”

In the lighter soils the beets are being harvested, but in Hemingford where the soil isn’t as light, farmers are waiting.

Another challenge Cullan said will be topping the beets. Sugar beets have to have the leaves chopped off before they are pulled out the ground.

“The leaves get ropy, so we’ll probably have to do some defoliating twice or run the stock shredding in front of the defoliator,” Cullan said.

The beets will heal from the frost, which causes the crown of the beet sticking out of the ground to turn yellow. Then as they heal and turns white again, the beets can be stored for longer periods.

Another downside to the freeze, is the sugar content of the beets locked.

“Right now, the last sugars that came in were 16.75,” Darnell said.

Western Sugar had projected a sugar of 17.7, but Darnell said, they haven’t seen any added percentage gain since the hard freeze.


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