POWELL, Wyo. — If you set out to design the perfect sugar beet harvest, the model wouldn't be far off the real thing that played out in the fall of 2012 in Western Sugar Cooperative's Lovell Factory District.
Growers and company are smiling at the delivered crop story line of a near record yield, strong sugar content and weather that cooperated for a clean and quick harvest.
Final tonnage figures for the Lovell district — acreage from Heart Mountain to Garland, and including the Lovell area and the Burlington-Emblem area — render a sugar beet crop averaging 28.81 tons to the acre in 2012. The average yield didn't quite make the previously projected 30 tons to the acre and fell just short of the district's record-setting 28.89 tons to the acre in 2011.
Still, it was "absolutely a good crop — the second best we've ever had," said Mark Bjornestad of Powell, senior agriculturist for Western Sugar.
"Some growers had individual contracts that hit 37 to 40 tons per acre on some fields, but no one averaged that high," Bjornestad added.
Sugar content of this year's crop averaged 17.62 percent district-wide. "That's a real respectable number, though we've had as high as 18 percent," Bjornestad said.
Growers delivered just under half a million tons of beets in this year's crop. The 480,000 tons of sugar beets will be processed into roughly 1.2 million, 100-pound bags of sugar.
The factory receiving station at Lovell, to which beets are delivered from Lovell, Cowley, Deaver and Byron areas, received 125,000 tons of this year's crop, tops in the district. The Emblem receiving station handled about 100,000 tons of beets.
Starr receiving station near Garland had the third largest delivery with about 60,000 tons. The Heart Mountain, West Powell and Willwood stations received 50,000-plus tons each, while O'Donnell station received about 25,000 tons.
Growers participated in an early dig from Sept. 4 through the end of the month that brought in a little more than 5 percent of the crop, a necessary start that went well, said Bjornestad. The early dig provided just enough beets for the factory to get a percentage of the slicing campaign out of the way so that the rest of the big crop can be processed by the target date of Feb. 10, 2013.
Sugar beets literally flew out of the ground when the regular harvest kicked off on Oct. 2. The last beets in the very quick harvest season were delivered on Oct. 22.
"Temperatures were a little on the warm side for the first few days of October, and we slowed down a little bit," Bjornestad said. "But overall it was close to ideal as far as moisture and conditions — one of the nicest harvest in my years with the company. If the temperatures would have been 5 to 10 degrees cooler for the first few days, it would have been perfect."
The factory processing campaign is going well. Nearly 50 percent of the crop had been sliced at the factory by the end of last week. Western Sugar likes to keep a two-week supply of beets on the ground at the factory. Rehaul trucks will be on the road until about Jan. 26 bringing the last of the beets from the receiving stations to keep to the scheduled completion of the factory campaign next Feb. 10.
Western Sugar Cooperative markets its processed sugar in the Midwest and the West.
The cooperative's Billings, Mont., factory district had almost the same sugar beet crop as the Lovell district. Montana posted an average yield of 28.7 tons to the acre with sugar content just slightly higher than the Lovell district.
For Wyoming as a whole, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that sugar beet production was up 7 percent in 2012, with an average yield of 29.3 tons to the acre on 31,300 harvested acres. Lovell Factory District farmers grew beets on about 17,000 of those acres.
Information from: Powell (Wyo.) Tribune, http://www.powelltribune.com