Montana sugar factories should be winding down in early February.
Western Sugar Cooperative expects to stop making sugar Wednesday in Billings, its earliest stopping date in the past few years. Some say the early closure is tied to an early start. The cooperative used to fire up in mid-September to prime the factory before going full speed in October. Larger harvests and an aversion to rough fall weather has pushed the factory startup into the first days of September.
“Pile storage has been excellent this season," 6th of February,” said Randall Jobman, vice president of agriculture, northern region.
Beets store outside, and cool — but not freezing — temperatures are crucial for assuring the beets don’t spoil before they can be processed for sugar.
This year farmers averaged just under 31 tons of beets per acre, Jobman said, with a sugar content of 17.4 percent.
Sidney Sugars in Eastern Montana expected to make sugar right up to Valentine’s Day.
“We had a good crop, tons were 31.32 per acre and sugar was 17.89,” said Duane Peters, agricultural manager at Sidney Sugars. “Factory has been running good."
In southcentral and Eastern Montana, sugar beets are a $100 million industry. The state plants 45,000 acres of sugar beets annually, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture.