Sugar campaign to begin

Local farmers will fire up their beet pullers on Sunday, and will begin the annual task of harvesting sugar beets from their fields. The daunting task will take place from dawn until dusk, for the next six to eight weeks.

In preparation for the upcoming campaign, Gerardo Beltran and Josh Mangus button up the evaporators at the Western Sugar Cooperative in Lovell. Patti Carpenter photo

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, the hum of machinery will start at the Western Sugar Cooperative factory in Lovell– a factory owned by the very same farmers — marking the beginning of the 2011 sugar beet campaign.

As the beets are pulled, they are loaded into trucks and hauled to special unloading stations located strategically in the area. The beets are then processed into sugar and sugar byproducts like beet pellets and pressed pulp. The byproducts are sold for use in livestock feed.

In a cycle that has repeated itself since the early 1900s, the factory will be abuzz with 125 workers who will process sugar 24/7 for the next five months. Most of the employees are from the Lovell and Powell areas and over half of them will return year after year to work the full campaign. Around 50 will stay year-round to perform maintenance on the processing equipment, and to perform other duties in preparation for the next year’s campaign.

The factory in Lovell slices about 3,000 tons of beets per day. That’s about 100 truckloads per day or four truckloads per hour or 900,000 pounds a day in batches that weigh as much as 60,000 pounds each. Each batch would fill an average bedroom.

“To make all that sugar we slice beets from 18,000 or more acres of sugar beets,” explained a factory spokesperson. “That’s enough acreage to plant a strip of beets a half mile wide by 56 miles long. It takes about 5½ acres of beets to produce a typical candy bar for everyone in the state of Wyo.”

Local farmers from Lovell, Cowley, Byron, Powell, Otto, Cody, Burlington and beyond raise the beets on their acreage, which for many, is their main income.

The factory was built in 1916 and will be celebrating its centennial in 2016. Sugar from the factory is sold locally under the brand name Western Family. It’s also sold in Wal-Mart stores under the brand name Great Value.

By Patti Carpenter