Concern, confusion surround local sugar beet industry

TORRINGTON – Sugar beet producers in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska face an uncertain future as a result of the announcement by Western Sugar Cooperative last fall the January payment would not be made.
The company has emphasized, although the January payment will not be made, growers will receive more for their beets harvested in 2017.
However, the problem is greater than just the missing January payment. Western made only two of the four payments due for the 2016 crop.
The condition of the beets still in piles at the company’s receiving stations in Colorado, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming is holding up, according to Western’s Vice President of Agriculture, Jerry Darnell. Even with reported problems with equipment and processing at plants in Scottsbluff, Neb., and Fort Morgan, Colo., Darnell said Monday, Jan. 8, that processing at Scottsbluff of the abundant crop is expected to be completed by late February or early March.
Added to the mix of issues surrounding the crop and facilities is a list of Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violations that have slowed processing at Scottsbluff and Fort Morgan. These have resulted in shut-downs while attempts are made to correct the issues.
The situation has growers and bankers concerned
Steve Feagler, Senior Vice President, First State Bank, Torrington, and a former beet producer, said bankers are leery of the situation, not just because of this year’s problems, but also the lack of half the payments for the 2016 crop.
“Lenders are looking for the collateral, which is sugar in the warehouse,” Feagler said during a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “They look at something that can be turned into cash.
“It’s a tough deal,” he added. “We were on a conference call with Western last week. There’s a lot of confusion. I think more growers are on the edge than they realized.”
Feagler said the sugar beet issue is not all that growers face. Prices are down for beans and corn, the region’s other major
irrigated crops.
Terry Lofink, a life-long beet producer in Goshen County, said Monday evening, “The bankers are not happy at all. It’s a bad deal. It’s probably the best crop we’ve ever grown, but this could break a lot of farmers.”
He noted that even though producers received their first check for this crop, the January check would be the third in two years farmers have not received.
“There aren’t many businesses that could keep operating like that,” Lofink said. “I don’t know what we’ll do. I’d thought about retiring, and I might. But I know we won’t grow any more beets.”
Lofink’s departure could possibly leave only four producers in Goshen County, which once was the heart of sugar beet production in
eastern Wyoming.
“Farmers just can’t keep going without being paid,” Lofink said. “Everything we buy is higher, and we’re getting less money. Even the big growers are hurting. At the present time, it sucks.”
Through their attorney Heather Luther, Western officials said Monday, Jan. 8, they have nothing to add to the information that has already been made public through emails sent to growers by Western’s CEO Rodney Perry in December.

Video News
More In Community