Sugar beet harvest nears completion

Jess Oaks
Posted 11/3/23

“We are, as of this morning (Thursday), we are 90% complete,” Jerry Darnell, Vice President of Agriculture, South Region for Western Sugar said.

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Sugar beet harvest nears completion

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TORRINGTON – Goshen County is known for its deep agriculture roots and as the seasons change, the 2023 sugar beet campaign has begun to wrap up. 

“We are, as of this morning (Thursday), we are 90% complete,” Jerry Darnell, Vice President of Agriculture, South Region for Western Sugar said. “We are trying to get some more tons out tonight, and we will probably get more tomorrow and then it’s [the weather] probably going to shut us down for a few days.”

Western Sugar, known as The Great Wester Sugar Company, was founded in the early 20th century by Charles Boettcher and partners. 

Sugar beets flourish in areas where the growing season is around five months long. 

“We are planning on harvesting close to 1.3 million tons in Nebraska and southeast Wyoming,” Darnell said. 

There are around 45,000 acers of sugar beets throughout the area. 

“The biggest setback we’ve had is the hail. Hailstorms during the growing season,” Darnell said. “Then we just didn’t have a lot of heat units during the growing season Now, we had a beautiful fall that helped us out to produce a really good, decent crop.” 

Although the growing temperatures weren’t as high as they have been in previous years, during campaign, the autumn heat slowed producers at harvest time. 

“We also did have a lot of heat shutdowns,” Darnell said. “We do not want beet temperatures over 50 degrees. So, we did a lot of early morning starts and then shut down around lunch for quite a few days.”

Sugar beets are a root crop with a high concentration of sucrose which is typically grown for sugar production. 

One pound of beet seed can plant up to one acre of farm ground. 

At harvest time, heavy machinery defoliates the leaves from the root of the beet, lifts the beet from the ground and removes the excess dirt from the root. The beets are then transported to the processing or receiving facility. They are weighed, unloaded and sampled for sugar content. Beets are then stored for processing.

“If you put a beet, over 50 degrees, in a pile it will not store long term. It will deteriorate and become unable to be processed,” Darnell said. 

When the beets are processed, they are washed and then cut into noodle-like segments or “cossettes”. 

After the beet has been cut, it is then weighed and sent through the processing facility’s diffuser. Hot water flushing, or diffusing, removes the sugar from the beet. 

Once the sugar has been removed from the beet, the remaining pulp is often processed for animal consumption. 

“We are better than last year. Last year we had the drought year, with no rain, and this year we are the complete opposite. We have an abundance of rain,” Darnell said. 

Sugar for year to date is averaging $17.25.