Farmers are hauling away a substantial portion of frozen beets they had brought to Sidney Sugars under an unusual addendum. An unseasonable warmup damaged the beets too much to process economically.
“We have thrown away beets before, but never in this volume,” said Don Steinbeisser Jr. “The weather got warm instead of staying cool like it was supposed to. That caused us to get less sliced than we had hoped for.”
Steinbeisser said the amount of beets being discarded is still being ascertained.
“We won’t know (the amount) for another week,” he estimated.
The discarded beets are being hauled out by farmers in trucks loaded by Sidney Sugars, as agreed if the company found it couldn’t slice them after all. Some of the discards could be fed to livestock, perhaps, but a majority will probably be dumped in the field, Steinbeisser said.
“If you have a bad spot in the field, it will help that,” Steinbeisser said.
Sidney Sugars has tried hard this season, Steinbeisser added. The weather simply didn’t cooperate.
“As long as we pull together and everyone gets treated fairly, we will be fine,” he said.
The 2019 season has been an unusual one for beet growers, and, ultimately, is proving disastrous — just as it has been for many other crops in the MonDak.
The 2019 Beet harvest began late, on Oct. 10, due to above average precipitation in September. A snowstorm came in and dusted the area right before harvest. Farmers were, however, able to deliver about 90,000 tons of beets in two days. Enough for the Sidney plant to begin slice.
The hope, at the time, was to harvest the remaining beets when the weather warmed sufficiently. But continued wet, muddy conditions and more unfavorable weather hampered these efforts considerably.
Ultimately, the company agreed it would take in some frozen beets and process them first, in an addendum to the contract between the Montana Dakota Beet Growers Association and Sidney Sugars.
The factory does not typically accept frozen beets.
Some of the beets were processed, but it’s not known yet how many. Plant manager David Garland deferred commenting on the matter for a later date.
Vice President of Agriculture Brian Ingulsrud said the company had taken about 30 days worth of frozen beets from growers.
"I think we could have processed all of them if it hadn't have gotten too warm," he said.
About two weeks after the frozen beets were brought in, temperatures went up, reaching a maximum of 60 degrees on one of the days.
"After that, those beets started going south as far as their quality," Ingulsrud said. "It got to the point where it didn't make economic sense to process them any more."
Ingulsrud said Sidney Sugars took about 180,000 tons of frozen beets, and were able to process about 150,000. That leaves about 30,000 that are being discarded.
Scott Buxbaum, president of the Montana Dakota Beet Growers Association, also deferred comments about the situation to a later time, but noted that it's been a tough year for everyone in the area.
“From the beginning in the spring with the flooding, there have been issues all year for everyone,” he said. “It’s not just sugar growers, it’s been a disaster for everyone.”
Richland County Commissioners, meanwhile, sent a request on Dec. 2 to Gov. Steve Bullock for a secretarial and presidential disaster declaration for weather damage to crops in the area.
Safflower, for one, has taken more than a 30% loss, Commissioners told the governor in their letter. An estimated 186,000 tons of beets were frozen, of which 30,000 tons are unlikely to be processed.
The sugar content of the beets that were processed is also down, the letter goes on to say, which further lessens the crop’s value.
Richland County Commissioners are estimating losses of $6.9 million for the county’s sugar beet growers, and said that between 1,200 to 1,400 acres of sugar beets could not be harvested at all. The information in the letter was attributed to Sidney Sugars.
Bullock has since sent a request to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for a secretarial disaster designation for 11 Montana counties, including Richland County. Approval of that would open the door for emergency loans and other federal emergency assistance programs.
As a result of Bullock's request, the Farm Service Agency is compiling damage assessments. That information will be used by the USDA to determine whether to issue a secretarial disaster designation.
Producers who have experienced losses are encouraged to contact their local FSA office to assist in this effort.