Wyoming sugar beet harvest strong despite delays
WORLAND — Despite losing about 300 acres of sugar beets in the spring, Wyoming Sugar’s 2021 crop should push 32 tons per acre and finish above 19 percent in sugar content.
Wyoming Sugar President and CEO Mike Greear said the company contracted for 12,200 acres.
“We had quite a few acres abandoned with hail damage,” he said.
They had 11,934 acres going to harvest this year.
“It was a difficult spring for everybody,” he added.
He said they initially estimated a “modest 30-ton crop” and then the beets started catching on in August so the estimate was increased to 31.5 tons per acre.
“I think we’ll push 32 tons. The crop is good,” he said.
“The sugar content I’m comfortable is going to pass 19%,” Greear said, but noted it probably won’t reach the record of 19.6 percent set last year. He said the five-year average has been 18.7 percent, which is where the content was at the start of harvest. He said the content over two days of processing in mid-October was over 19 percent, noting it usually grows throughout the harvest.
Harvesting, specifically pre-piling, was delayed due to some of the capital projects, but he noted “the weather was so darn hot anyway,” the delay was not necessarily a bad thing.
Growers fought 80-degree weather until the rains hit Saturday, Oct. 9. He said the factory and growers used hot weather protocols of harvesting during the cooler part of the day and not piling the beets in the heat of the day.
Since they knew a weather change was coming, Greear said they pushed the hot weather protocols on Oct. 8 and brought in beets a little warmer than they prefer.
Harvest was suspended Monday afternoon, Oct. 11 through Thursday, Oct. 14. Greear said in an interview on Thursday, Oct. 14 that there was a possibility of some growers resuming harvesting Friday afternoon, Oct. 15.
“Fortunately, the severe cold that was forecast moderated. The beets in the ground are safe. If the weather does not change dramatically we’ll get the beets in on time,” Greear said. “But, we’ll be fighting mud for a while.”
On Oct. 14, he said over 130,000 tons of the expected 380,000 tons had been piled. “We are well over a third harvested. A good break in the weather next week and we could put a good dent in the harvest.”
Harvest typically runs through October, he said there may be some growers who are finishing up harvesting in the first week of November this year.
The two main capital projects at the Wyoming Sugar factory in Worland are work on the purification system and on the filtration system. He said the projects were delayed in part due to the supply chain issues and in the learning curve with new systems.
Wyoming Sugar, like a lot of area businesses, has struggled to find enough employees.
“It’s hard to get folks, we just do not have enough people to fill all the positions,” Greear said, noting that as the county dealt with the COVID surge at the end of September, it hit the factory with employees out. He noted that no one was seriously ill from COVID.