Advances in technology have drastically changed the way the sugar beet is planted, grown, harvested and the beet itself.
Beets now don’t have to be thinned, a labor-intensive job done by hand years ago. Today, one seed produces one shoot, so each seed is planted at the preferred spacing. Seeds also are herbicide and disease resistant.
“All approved beet varieties are genetically engineered, which increases yields and sugar content. Thinning and hand-weeding is no longer required,” said Mark Duffin, executive director of the Idaho Sugar Beet Growers Association in Boise.
Duffin has been executive director of the organization for 27 years which has about 540 members in Idaho. He grew up in Aberdeen where his parents and grandparents raised sugar beets.
The number of acres planted each year, of approved seed varieties, varies each year and is determined by the Amalgamated Sugar Co., because of the limited number of sugar factories that can process sugar beets.
“All beets need a home to go to — to be processed. It’s not an open market,” Duffin said. “The co-op adjusts the acreages up and down depending on the need.”
Today, there are just three sugar beet factories compared to years ago when many eastern Idaho towns had factories. In the early 1900s, Sugar City was created by the Fremont County Sugar Co., according to sugarcityidaho.gov. The company was part of the Utah-Idaho Sugar Co. and was built as farms and ranches were being established in the Upper Snake River Valley, according to the website. The town, which eventually grew to over 1,000 people, was platted close to the factory, which was built in 1904. The sugar factory closed in 1942 and dismantled, the website stated, but in its heyday it shipped sugar with the widely recognized U&I brand name to national markets via the Union Pacific Railroad.
“There’s a long history of sugar beet growing in east Idaho and northern Utah which pretty much shut down in the 1970s,” Duffin said. “It was pretty painful for those communities.”
After the co-op was founded in the 1990s some growers wanted to get back into sugar beet farming but it often if wasn’t cost effective to haul long distances to the remaining sugar factories.
Even so, there are still some farmers who grow beets in eastern Bingham County and haul to the receiving stations near Blackfoot, Rockford and Springfield, Duffin said.
The industry contributes about $2 billion to Idaho’s economy.
“It’s a very significant impact,” he said.
And the impact is felt locally too. Many who work only during the sugar beet harvest each fall enjoy the extra income, including Margaret Turpin, of Thomas, who has worked at both Liberty and the Blackfoot receiving stations. The housewife and mother of 10 has worked during beet harvest since 1997, when the Liberty station first opened. The Blackfoot station opened in 2010. For Turpin and others, the extra income comes in handy for Christmas gifts, bills, home improvements or even travel, she said.
“It’s a little extra income for us and we feel rich for a little while,” she said.
While the extra spending money is welcome, friendships made on the job are the biggest treasure.
“We keep coming back because of the friendships we make, sometimes we don’t see each other again until the next harvest, but we enjoy each other and working together,” she said.
Because the days can be long there’s little time for anything else. Depending on the weather, a typical day begins around 6:30 a.m. and ends at around 8:30 p.m., six days a week. Turpin’s first job was taking samples as beets are unloaded. Today, she weighs in the trucks that unload at the rate of about one every 2 minutes.
“We are there to meet the needs of the growers and they need to roll as many trucks as they can so they can to get their crop in. We are there to help in any way we can,” she said.
Turpin and many employees take personal pride in their work, even though the days are long and the work is repetitious.
“Beets are kinda fun, the whole community comes together during beet harvest (to the receiving stations). It’s a busy, humming place,” she said.
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via Post Register
October 17, 2018 at 02:54PM