Following what seemed a never-ending season of disasters, the area’s 2019 sugar beet harvest shifted into gear on Monday, Sept. 16. The first beets over the Western Sugar Cooperative scales in Scottsbluff were from the Ginn and Scottsbluff/Gering areas. Other receiving stations will open for business Oct. 6.

“We’ve battled a lot of issues this year,” Jerry Darnell, Western’s vice president of agriculture, said Wednesday morning. “We had the wet, cool spring, then the canal collapsed, and then severe hail storms. It’s good to get harvest started.”

The unusual growing season began with large amounts of rain and cool temperatures that delayed development. Once the crop took hold, the Goshen and Gering/Fort Laramie Irrigation Canal that serves approximately 107,000 acres in Nebraska and Wyoming, was shut down July 17 when one of the tunnels along the canal collapsed. Water was returned to the system Aug. 29. Devastating hail storms in the Scottsbluff to Bridgeport area, as well as in Box Butte County, contributed to the disheartening season.

As a result, Darnell said the crop is estimated to come in at 27.3 tons per acre, with 16.75 percent sugar.

“With only 1 percent of the crop in, it’s too early to know what the final figures will be, but we had hoped for an average of 31 tons per acre,” Darnell explained.

According to Darnell, Aulick Trucking will again haul beets from Wheatland, Wyoming, as well as from the piling yard at the now idle Torrington, Wyoming, plant. Growers along the Nebraska/Wyoming border may choose where to deliver their beets – Torrington or Scottsbluff. However, Lyman and Morrill area beets will be delivered to the Scottsbluff yard where six pilers are available.

Darnell explained that beets in a 90-mile radius, from Wheatland, Wyomiung, to Mirage Flats, are included in the 2019 harvest.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kendall Busch, a Mitchell area producer and president of the Nebraska Sugar Beet Growers Association, he said, as well as other producers, are glad the year is about over.

“We had a wet spring, so there was moisture in the profile. That got us through part of it,” he explained. “Then we got more rain and the water came back in the canal, but the damage had been done already.”

Considering all that has happened during this growing season, Busch still found something positive in the harvest delay due to high heat degree days. This allowed the beets to mature more, generating additional sugar. Now, growers are hoping for cool weather that will help store the sugar in the beets.

“There’s always a lot of pressure,” Busch explained. “Now, we just hope for cool weather that will help store the sugar in the beets, and that we can get through another year.

“This one is something I’ve never seen before, but it will make for good Christmas dinner conversations,” he predicted.

In other Western locations, harvest in the Fort Morgan, Colorado, area began the week of Sept. 9. Early figures there show a 33.2 ton average, with 16.5 percent sugar. The Billings, Montana, operation opened Sept. 3, while Lovell, Wyoming, started Sept. 17.

Processing of the 2019 crop at the Scottsbluff plant is expected to conclude the first week of February, 2020.

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