BLACKFOOT — This autumn’s sugar beet crop looks to be just about as sweet as last year’s crop.

For the Amalgamated Sugar Co., sugar beet harvest kicks off in early September with a controlled early dig where approximately 16 percent of the total 2017 crop is harvested, said Kyle Gelles, a Blackfoot-area field man who works at Amalgamated.

The early harvest provides enough beets for the startup of factories located in Paul, Twin Falls and Nampa. The controlled early dig in eastern Idaho ended last week with the remaining crop harvested to area receiving stations, like the Liberty beet dump, 15 miles west of Blackfoot, through October, Gelles said.

“Last year’s crop broke a lot of company records with sugar content climbing towards 20 percent and yields above 40 tons per acre,” Gelles said.

“I don’t anticipate we’ll beat last year’s crop, but yields and sugars are coming in higher than expected in early harvest, indicating it’s still going to be a really good year.”

In 2016, the Liberty station, brought in more than 400,000 tons of sugar beets, Gelles said. The majority of these beets are fed to the Nampa factory, via rail cars and the rest are trucked to the Paul facility. Liberty is the only receiving station that still uses the railroad to ship beets, Gelles said.

Preliminary 2017 price estimates are $37 to $40 per ton, he said.

Amalgamated is a sugar beet-refining company founded in 1897 in Logan, Utah. It has since transitioned to a cooperative owned by around 700 grower-members, Gelles said.

Sugar is rendered from sugar beets in a complex water and chemical process and is marketed in the United States under the White Satin brand, according to the Amalgamated Sugar Co., website.

Third-generation potato, wheat, alfalfa and beet grower Doug Evans, of Blackfoot, who farms with brothers Gary and Blaine Evans, is harvesting potatoes between the early and regular sugar beet harvest.

Family farm traditions continue on the Evans farm.

“Harvest is a stressful time on any farm, but our whole family gets involved,” Doug Evans said. “Our family prides itself that all are involved, from Grandpa driving a tractor to Grandma, and the wives driving harvest trucks, to any one of the 16 grandchildren moving pipe and picking clods. It takes the whole family to make this operation successful, and to keep it going on to the fourth generation.”

Evans estimates this year’s beet crop could average throughout the co-op about 38 to 39 tons per acre compared to last year’s 40 to 41 tons per acre.

“Last year was the best year we ever had and this year is pretty close,” Evans said.

Doug Evans’ dad, Dean Evans, added sugar beets to their list of crops in 1997 when Doug was 15, and the family has raised sugar beets since then. At about that time, Amalgamated became the grower-owned cooperative it is today, Evans said. Before 1997 there were very few farmers in the Blackfoot area who were still growing sugar beets, since most of the factories had closed, Evans said.

“When Amalgamated offered shares in the newly formed cooperative, many farms welcomed the opportunity to add another crop to their rotation,” Evans said. “Beets don’t have the volatile price swings that fresh-pack potatoes do. Beets pay the bills.”

“Last year’s crop broke a lot of company records with sugar content climbing towards 20 percent and yields above 40 tons per acre. I don’t anticipate we’ll beat last year’s crop, but yields and sugars are coming in higher than expected in early harvest, indicating it’s still going to be a really good year.” Kyle Gelles, Amalgamated Sugar Co. field man in Blackfoot
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