TWIN FALLS — Cold and windy conditions in spring are hard on emerging sugar beets and this year has taken a toll.
Greg Cameron, who farms north of Rupert and also sells beet seed, has had to replant about 550 acres due to both frost and wind. Temperatures dropped to 19 degrees in mid-April just as beets were emerging.
“It just smoked them,” Cameron said. “There was no guessing about whether to replant them or not.”
He’s been getting calls from farmers looking for seed to replant. One call was from a farmer who had been planting potatoes and had just gotten back to check his beet fields.
Cameron says it’s too early to tell how many acres will have to be replanted across the Magic Valley due to strong winds or frost. He expects the number will be higher than last year but not catastrophic thanks to late March snow storms and cold that delayed planting.
Dean Stevenson also raises beets in the Rupert area but doesn’t start planting until later to avoid replanting as much as possible. He didn’t start planting until April 15 so his seed was still safely underground when the frost hit later that week.
To protect the vulnerable seedlings, he has stopped plowing following small grain to leave more residue on the soil. Now that he has finished planting, Stevenson has starting to irrigate beets but nothing has emerged yet.
Even though he felt like he was behind this spring, Murtaugh farmer Matt Nail was surprised to find he had started on the exact same day as last year.
“My beets are actually off to a good start,” said Nail, who planted April 2.
About 60 percent of his beets are up now but none had emerged before April 18’s hard frost, when temperatures dropped to the mid-20s at his farm.
“I lucked out on that one,” he said.
Beet farmers must balance the need to plant early to maximize sugar content and yields while minimizing the risk of replanting thanks to frost or high winds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Idaho growers had planted 66 percent of their beet acres by April 23, compared with the five-year average of 73 percent. Many took advantage of good weather after the report was released to finish planting.
Though several frosts occurred in April, the average daily temperature for both Twin Falls and Rupert is just 1 degree below the long-term average of 48 and 47 degrees respectively. The daily average is for a 24-hour period.
Growers are hopeful for a good growing season. Sugar content was down last year after the cold, late start. But active pile management allowed Amalgamated Sugar Co. to maintain those sugar levels.
Sugar content of stored beets usually declines around Christmas, but this winter the levels held through mid-February despite warmer than normal conditions in January and early February.
Pat Laubacher, vice president for agriculture at Amalgamated, said crop consultants walk the outside beet piles every 10 days to assess the pile health. Beets that froze during the cold weather in December were stripped off and processed first. Between 7 and 8 feet of perimeter is removed at a time to allow the beets in the center of the pile to remain undisturbed for as along as possible.
That strategy, which Amalgamated has been using for several years, allowed the company to process all beets from the exposed outside piles this year — and that should pay off for growers.
Years when few beets are discarded and sugar content remains good throughout processing often translate into higher beet payments.
“It just smoked them. There was no guessing about whether to replant them or not.” Greg Cameron, Rupert sugar beet grower who lost 550 acres of seedlings to frost and wind