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Idaho beet growers harvest No. 2 yielding crop on record

Sugar beets are added to a beet pile in East Idaho in this file photo. Average yields for Idaho sugar beet farmers were the second-highest ever recorded this year and average sugar content was also the second highest ever recorded.

By John O’Connell

Intermountain Farm and Ranch

Idaho’s sugar beet farmers recently finished harvesting their second highest yielding crop on record.

The average percentage of sugar within beets was also the second best ever.

Because the No. 1 yielding crop and the crop that set the record for highest percentage of sugar occurred during different years, industry officials say it’s possible that this year’s crop will yield the most finished sugar in history.

“A lot of that depends on how well (beets) store and making sure the factories run without any breakdowns,” said Brad Griff, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association. “There is still another part of the equation which is what happens between now and when they finish extracting all of the sugar. We’ll have those numbers in the spring.”

Amalgamated Sugar Co. produces sugar from sugar beets grown by more than 700 members of its parent cooperative, Snake River Sugar Co.

Sugar beets for the company are grown on about 180,000 acres, most of which are in Idaho, but the company’s grower base also extends into parts of Oregon and Washington.

Idaho farmers harvested 40.56 tons of beets per acre on average this fall. The harvest record was set in 2016, when the state’s farmers averaged 41.42 tons per acre, Griff said.

“We’ve only gotten above 40 tons three times in history,” Griff said. “We’ve been in the 39s several times but anything above 40 is an exceptional crop. We’re pretty happy with that number.”

The beets contained 18.41 percent sugar on average. The record for sugar content was set in the fall of 2018, when Idaho beet farmers averaged 18.48 percent sugar.

“The (percentage of sugar) just trended up there in the last few weeks,” Griff said.

Griff said harvest conditions were ideal. The temperature wasn’t too warm, but it was warm enough that the beets could be easily pulled out of the ground.

To minimize the potential for beets rotting in piles, Griff explained that the company implemented a policy a couple of years ago requiring growers to stop harvesting for the day whenever beet temperatures exceed 55 degrees for three consecutive loads.

“I don’t think there were a lot of shutdowns this year,” Griff said.

He said USDA’s sugar program effectively manages the national supply and ensures a stable sugar market.

“We anticipate a very solid beet payment,” Griff said. “I think growers are looking forward to potentially offsetting some of the experiences they had early on with milk and some of the commodities that are less stable.”