A grand crop

Record beet harvest wraps up for local growers

The 2011 sugar beet harvest is “99.5 percent complete,” Western Sugar Senior Agriculturist Mark Bjornestad reported Tuesday, and he said the crop is excellent.

“We have a couple of guys left. We should be finished this week if all goes well,” Bjornestad noted.

Recent rains delayed the harvest by about a week, he said, but everything is looking good as the sugar campaign continues at the Lovell factory.

An automated piece of equipment at the Crosby farm near Lovell digs beets out of the ground and loads them directly into a truck during this year’s record beet harvest season. The harvest is nearly complete for most farmers. The sugar factory in Lovell will continue processing through late February.

“The crop is fantastic,” Bjornestad said. “The whole Lovell factory area averaged 28.8 tons per acre. Last year we averaged 26.8 tons per acre.

“This is the best year ever.”

Bjornestad said the sugar content has averaged 17.2 percent, just down a bit from last year’s 17.5 to 17.6 percent.

“It’s a little lower sugar content but a lot more tons,” he said. “It’s good sugar. Any time you average in the 17s, it’s a good thing.”

The high tonnage is a bit of a head-scratcher, Bjornestad said, with the growing season getting off to a slow start with a cool, wet spring.

“My opinion is that the rain made people wait, and the temperatures were such that the beets were still growing in October,” he said.

Bjornestad said summer sampling indicated a 25-ton crop. He said there is typically a 2½ to 3-ton increase in the crop from late August to harvest, and the most he could remember was about a 4½-ton increase. But this year the late-season increase was eight tons.

He noted that Western Sugar delayed the harvest this year, with digging starting on Sept. 22.

Now in full swing, the campaign is anticipated to run through late February or the first week in March, Bjornestad said.

By David Peck