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The sugar market could be facing a shortage next year, as an early freeze and wetter conditions than usual have ruined some of this year’s crop. 

On Friday, Nov. 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it fully intends to take appropriate actions to ensure an adequate supply of sugar to the U.S. market.

“We’ve had a horrible harvest,” said Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. “We’re going to leave over 140,000 acres of sugar beets in the ground, which to put it into perspective is a field about a mile wide from Denver to Scottsbluff.”

In Scottsbluff, Kendall Busch, president of the Nebraska Sugarbeet Growers Association said, the Western Sugar Factory is still harvesting sugar beets and processing. Still, many of the other sugar factories, such as American Crystal Sugar and Minn-Dak Farmer’s Cooperative, are done with harvest. 

In the U.S., 85 percent of the sugar supply is homegrown in sugar beets and sugar cane, the other 15 percent comes from imports. 

“Mexico will get the first chance to fill any shortages,” Busch said. 

If Mexico can’t fill the shortage, then the USDA will go to the world market.

Markwart is quick to add, though, that the U.S. has plenty of sugar since last year there was an oversupply of sugar stock.

“So, there is plenty of sugar on hand since September, and we are now harvesting our beet and cane crop. We are making it, delivering a little bit to customers and storing it,” he said. 

A short crop will mean in July or August, the sugar market will become tight, and the U.S. will probably need some sugar imported.

“(The USDA) needs to make sure they bring the right amount, and not to oversupply the market. Our growers are hurting with a damaged crop year, and the last thing they need is an oversupplied market and a depressed price,” Markwart said. 

Both Busch and Markwart agree the USDA needs to look at the numbers and balance them correctly.

In a Nov. 15, release the USDA noted it will make a decision this month but could take up to Dec. 10.

Busch says, it’s good the department is being cautious as some sugar has yet to come in

In November, the WASDE Report said the U.S. sugar production projection declined by 572,000 short tons raw value from the previous month. USDA will be addressing options soon to stabilize U.S. sugar supplies for the domestic market, avoid forfeitures and prevent or correct market disruptions.


The 2019 growing season was a challenging one for many across Nebraska and Wyoming, and harvest is not shaping up any better.

The dry edible bean harvest was a disappointing one for producers in western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming.

The growers dealt with challenges from the weather to the collapse of one of the main irrigation systems, the Ft. Laramie Canal. 

“The yields were considerably down from the last couple of years, and with the challenges, it turned out to be a lot smaller crop than we expected,” said Dan Smith agronomist with Kelley Bean. 

Many of the bean plants didn’t produce the size or amount of beans in the pods. The late hail seemed just to shut the plants down.

Some of the beans left in the field may go to forage, but it’s more likely they will be destroyed.

“The beans will be disced under. Some may leave them stand through the winter just to collect some snow and more moisture for the spring,” Smith said.

Production problems in the area and where dry beans are grown have caused the market to move up, and next year’s market should be brighter. 

Smith said growers should get their seed orders in early, as the seed companies will not be prepared for a bigger demand. 

Sugar beet growers from Wyoming to North Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska have also had a year of obstacles. 

Mother Nature has thrown the gambit of rain, snow, heat, and cold at the growers this year for harvest. 

In Scottsbluff, Neb., the sugar beet harvest was 86 percent done by Oct. 30, with 160,000 tons left to harvest and process, which are frozen.

“The beets are completely frozen in the crown, and that is why we will go to an allocation,” said Jerry Darnell, vice president of the south region for Western Sugar. “Once the ground thaws, we’ll bring beets in and put them through the piler and process them right away.”

Western Sugar broke records in slicing beets on Oct. 7, breaking its previous campaign record of 8,032 sliced tons per day was set in 2018. On Oct. 7, they exceeded that record with 8,140 tons per day and broke it again on Oct. 15 with another record of 8,668 tons. 

Potatoes are another crop in western Nebraska, which faced challenges from the weather during harvest.

“We had some excessive rainfall in some areas, which caused compaction issues,” said Zane Walker, Walther Farms agronomist. “Otherwise, harvest went well, as most farmers were able to get the potatoes out before the big frost.”

The wet, cool summer caused problems for the potatoes, as the plants didn’t get enough growing days. 

“The yield was down slightly because of the short growing days,” Walker said. 

All of the potatoes at Walther Farms will be shipped and processed for potato chips. 

Harvest is still ongoing with corn in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska, where many farmers didn’t start until mid-October and had been stopping and starting with the recent snows.