BILLINGS- In Montana and northern Wyoming, the sugar beet industry continues to be an important driver for local economies. And the early sugarbeet harvest is underway for both Western Sugar Cooperative and Sidney Sugars growers.
“Economics of the sugar beet business have been very good for all my life,” said Ervin Schlemmer, a sugar beet farmer from Joliet. “Sugar beets have been the mortgage lifter on a lot of farms. We’ve had some tough times, but we’ve also had some very good times.”
For Western Sugar Cooperative grower Schlemmer, this year marks his 46th sugarbeet harvest. He said even with the ups and downs of the industry, harvest is still one of his favorite times of the year.
“I love digging sugar beets and I love the smell of sugar beets,” said Schlemmer. “It’s one of those businesses where we raise a lot of other crops too, but the sugar beet business is kind of in my blood. I’ve been involved with the politics of sugar and I know it from one end to the other.”
He said this year’s crop will probably average in the low 30s as for tonnage per acre, a little bit less than what Western Sugar is projecting as a whole in Montana and Wyoming. He attributes severe weather as the culprit.
“It’s a good average crop this year, at least in the Clarks Fork Valley,” said Schlemmer. “I think some areas that didn’t receive hail have an excellent crop. Like I said, it’s not going to be as good as a crop as last year or even the year before, but it looks like we’re going to be happy with it.”
Duane Peters, ag manager for Sidney Sugars, said growers along the Lower Yellowstone are also pleased with this year’s sugar beet crop.
“Right now, the crop is looking good,” said Peters. “We anticipate a ton at the end of the year of 32.5 tons per acre. We just ran our first sugars test and it came back 17.3 percent. Which is about .6 to .7 above the average. So, we’re very happy to see sugar content this high for this time of the year.”
Schlemmer said when sugarbeet growers have a good year, so does Montana’s overall economy.
“In Montana alone, it’s a $50 million business that’s put into our local economies, our small towns and our downtown businesses,” said Schlemmer. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the co-op or the grocery store, the sugar beet business is what helps feed this valley.”
According to the Montana Ag Statistics Service, sugar beet acreage in Montana is 42,700 ,or the same as 2017. In Wyoming, it’s 30,900 acres or down 700 acres from 2017.
This year’s full sugarbeet harvest for both Western Sugar Cooperative and Sidney Sugars will begin the first week of October.
Story by Russell Nemetz, MTN News