The Western Sugar plant in Lovell wrapped up a longer than normal campaign this week, with the slicing of beets ending on Wednesday, March 2, and the process of sugar extraction ceasing a few days later. According to plant manager Shannon Ellis, it was a “darn good” year with excellent tonnage, a relatively high sugar content and no major breakdowns of equipment during the processing.
The campaign, which normally runs around 140-145 days, ran 180 days this year, employing 115 workers. Around 40 of those employees will continue to work year round to clean and perform maintenance on the plant’s equipment in preparation for next year’s harvest.
In spite of the unseasonably warm weather this season, Ellis said none of the beets spoiled during the extra long campaign, in large part due to the efforts by farmers to keep the beets cold and flowing steadily into the massive piles that marked the western entrance of Lovell for several months.
“The farmers were pretty disciplined in the harvest this year,” said Ellis. “They worked hard to keep the beets cool before they went into the pile. That kept us from having losses.”
Randal Jobman, senior agriculturalist for the co-op, said though the yield was about average at 29 tons per acre, the sugar content was fairly high at 17.99 percent. According to information provided previously by the co-op, one acre will normally produce 25.7 tons of sugar beets.
Though it wasn’t necessarily the “bumper crop” farmers had hoped for, it was a really good crop, Jobman said.
Ellis said 1,477,476 “hundred weights” (100-pound bags of sugar) were produced this year. He said storage of the beets went particularly well, with very little shrinkage occurring in the piles and no spoilage whatsoever.
The sugar beet crop is a primary source of income for many farmers in the area. The success of the campaign depends on weather and many other factors.
The plant is a cooperative owned by farmers. During the campaign, which starts as early as September, it operates 24/7 to process the beets into sugar. The finished product, which is pure granulated sugar, is picked up daily by truck and train and delivered to commercial customers all over the country.
By Patti Carpenter