Trucks loaded with freshly dug beets made their way through the streets of Lovell on Monday marking the first day of the sugar beet campaign.
According to Randall Jobman, Senior Agriculturalist for the Western Sugar Cooperative Billings office, the kickoff to the season began with a limited harvest that will allow only tightly scheduled deliveries with no more than an accumulation of three days (processing time) worth of beets stored at one time.
“The weather is hot and beets won’t store for very long, so we are allowing limited deliveries,” said Jobman. “We will be shifting into full harvest mode in October, when long-term storage is possible.”
Jobman said the growers are expecting another record year with as many as 32-tons per acre for some farmers in the forecast, compared to 28.8 last year.
“I think with the big crop coming, starting early is good,” said Jobman. “Not everyone is harvesting yet, but we are allowing some limited delivery just to get a jump on things.”
Jobman said they are anticipating the harvest to be in full swing on Oct. 2, when cooler weather will make long-term storage possible.
According to information provided by the co-op, one acre will normally produce 25.7 tons of sugar beets. A ton of beets yields about 285 pounds of sugar, that is 2.8 tons of sugar or 1,150 five-pound bags of sugar.
The processing plant, a cooperative owned by the farmers, operates 24/7 to process the beets into sugar during the season, which normally runs for about five months ending in mid-February.
During that five-month period of time, huge piles of beets mark the entrance to Lovell. As the campaign progresses, the piles become noticeably smaller every day as truckload after truckload of the sweet bounty is processed into sugar. The factory slices about 3,000 tons of beets per day and the sugar from those beets is loaded on to trains and trucks and shipped across the country.
The sugar beet crop is a primary source of income for many farmers in the area. The factory employs up to 125 workers during the processing season, making it one of the larger employers in the area.
by Patti Carpenter