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By Caitlyn French, mlive.com
BAY CITY, MI - Despite having to contend with heavy spring rains, soggy fields, and early cold weather freezing the fields, area sugar beet farmers are on track to finish harvesting a successful 2019 crop.© Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS A truck full of sugar beets gets ready to unload at Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
Grower-owned Michigan Sugar is reaching final stages of harvesting this year’s crop, despite weather setbacks. As of Tuesday, Nov. 12, some 97% of the company’s crop has been harvested and delivered.
Michigan Sugar anticipates a yield of approximately 28.7 tons per acre with a crop sugar content average of 18.1%. For comparison, the 2018 crop was at 29.31 tons per acre with a sugar content of 16.2% and the 2017 crop was 25.56 tons per acre at 18.4% sugar content.© Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS A pile of sugar beets at Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
“Right now, we feel really fortunate and grateful that the numbers are looking the way they are," said Michigan Sugar spokesman Rob Clark.
According to Clark, there are just 2,000 acres left that still have beets in the ground out of 154,000 total acres planted. A recent cold snap has caused a bit of a snag, but Clark and local growers are betting on a window of warm weather forecast to hit next week, with temperatures expected to climb into the high 30s and low 40s.
“That’s a very small amount that’s left to harvest. We actually anticipate that we’ll still be able to get those out of the ground," he said.
Clark said last year’s crop had to contend with leaf-spot disease but that this year’s crop is healthy and in the clear from the ailment.
Beating the weather
From planting to harvest, beet producers have had a lot on their plate to contend with this year weather-wise.© Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Sugar beets fill a hopper at Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
“This has been a very interesting year in that Mother Nature really made things challenging for our growers, right from the beginning," said Clark.© Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS Sugar beets ride a conveyer belt at Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
He said that farmers for Michigan Sugar were still planting beets the second week of June this year, which is later than normal. He attributed the delay to a wet and cold spring that hindered planting schedules.
Two big rain events that soaked the state this fall complicated harvest time. Fields in the Bay City and Thumb area were especially wet and muddy, making it difficult for equipment to get into the field.
“This is probably the toughest harvest that I’ve ever remembered,” said Daniel Bublitz, Tuscola County MSU Extension beet educator.© Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com/mlive.com/TNS A pile of sugar beets at Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019.
“Normally, after the rain, we could just wait and let things just dry out a little bit. But with this cold weather coming we really had to keep on rushing and keep going to get them out," he said.
The trouble hasn’t stopped once the beets are out of the ground. Muddy fields have been a hindrance at Michigan Sugar’s piling grounds. Clark said that workers have had to contend with cold temperatures and mud from the fields getting into and impacting their equipment.
Bublitz explained that prolonged cold can damage the beet’s roots. However, the recent Veteran’s Day snowstorm might have actually given the beets an extra fighting chance. Bublitz said that while it’s yet to be determined the status of the remaining beets in the ground, the blanket of snow may just work to insulate them to prevent damage.
Meanwhile, the cold weather this week is not entirely bad news. The cold is useful for the beets that are currently in Michigan Sugar’s 11 piling locations. Bublitz explained that cold weather is preferred for beet storage.
“It slows down the metabolism of the beet, so it doesn’t use as much sugar. It also slows down the metabolism of pathogens that eat them up in the pile," he said.
“It’s always a balancing act at this time of year because we want it to be cold enough that our piles are healthy but we want it to warm up enough that our equipment can get into those fields and we can get those last beets,” he said.
Despite the challenges, local beet growers have been working together as a team to get this year’s crop out of the ground and to the piles.
Clark said that he’s gotten reports of what he calls “acts of sweetness.” Farmers have helped each other out by lending out equipment or showing up in their neighbor’s fields ready to work.
“It’s inspiring to see that kind of teamwork, but it also speaks to the tremendous challenge that this harvest has presented our growers,” he said.
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November 14, 2019 at 04:23PM