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Sugar Planting

A newly emerged sugar beet seedling stretches toward the sun April 19, 2016, in a field near Murtaugh.

A top crop: The sugar beet is in the top six or seven crops for the state in terms of its value when it leaves the farm, said Laura Johnson, bureau chief for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s market development division.

Amalgamated Sugar Co. reported the sugar beet industry contributes 1.7 percent of the Idaho gross domestic product. And while most major Idaho crops are expected to decline in cash receipts for 2015, only sugar beets and barley were expected to increase.

Sugar beets are projected to contribute $300 million in cash receipts in 2015 — about 9.7 percent of Idaho’s total cash receipts from crops.

Rising revenue: Amalgamated Sugar’s members annually grow about 182,000 acres of sugar beets, and the company’s sugar brings in between $750 million and $900 million in annual revenue, the company reported in its presentation to a state legislative committee in December. Amalgamated, owned and operated by Snake River Sugar Co., has 679 members in Idaho.

The state’s sugar beet growers last year harvested 1,000 fewer acres than in 2014, according to the University of Idaho. Although 2015 production is projected to be down 1 percent from 2014, sugar beet revenues are estimated to be up 19 percent.

Factory jobs: Amalgamated Sugar has about 1,600 employees. Of those, 324 work at the Twin Falls factory — a payroll of about $20 million.

Sugar processing accounts for about 2.5 percent of all manufacturing jobs in Idaho, according to Idaho Department of Labor statistics. That percentage has increased slightly from 10 years ago.

Farm jobs: “Production has kind of shifted from the Treasure Valley to the Magic Valley,” said Mark Duffin, executive director of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Employment at the farm has dropped over the years, he said, as technology and genetic engineering streamlined the process. Genetically engineered sugar beets are resistant to herbicides, which has reduced the need for many migrant laborers to weed the crops.

Connection to other commodities: Sugar beets are important to Idaho because they go hand in hand with potato production, Johnson said. Duffin said growers must rotate crops every few years, and many also rotate in wheat, hay or beans.

Also, the pulp byproduct from sugar beets is fed as a high-quality, inexpensive feed to beef and dairy cattle.

“There’s a strong symbiosis between the industries, too,” he said. “That market is important to us.”

If not for dairy cows or beef cattle, some sugar beet pulp probably would be put into landfills, said Rick Naerebout, director of operations for Idaho Dairymen’s Association. “That’s really what attracted the (dairy) industry here, was affordable land and affordable feed.”

Beet hauling: Transportation has always been a large expense for the sugar beet industry. In Idaho, about 7 million tons of beets are transported a year, Duffin said.

Transystems is the main contractor for hauling. The company announced in April that it would move its manufacturing facility to Rupert to better provide semi-truck trailers to its largest Idaho customer, Amalgamated Sugar. Its Twin Falls facility will continue to maintain trailers.

Transystems manufactures about 20 trailers a year on average, a company spokesman said last month. The company would like to increase production to 40 trailers a year.

—Heather Kennison


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