Sugar beet harvest ends with hopes of disaster relief

by Robert Nolte 
HUNTLEY – This year’s sugar beet harvest is over and losses could top $5 million in the county, according to some estimates.

Butch Ewen, a Project beet grower and member of the Montana States Growers Association board of directors, said there are a few growers on the Project that have 30 to 40 percent of their beets still in the field.

Because of the cold weather and snow cover, those beets will not be harvested this year, said Ewen.

Ewen said when more solid figures are available, there will likely be a push for the county commissioners to seek a federal disaster declaration so growers can recover some of their losses.

Beet dumps on the Project are empty and the harvest is over for this year. Because of the losses, the sugar beet factory in Billings will likely be finished slicing beets in mid-January. During a normal harvest, the plant would be busy until some time in February.

About 83 percent of the crop in Yellowstone County, with an average of 31.6 tons per acre, has been trucked to the beet factory for processing, according to a Western Sugar Cooperative official.

Wyoming fared worse with about 66 percent of the state’s beets harvested with an average of 28.4 tons per acre.

Though the harvest looked promising early on, a freeze struck on Oct. 8 after one week of harvesting, spoiling hopes of a high yielding harvest.

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