Rains delay harvest of welcome crop

 By Kay Braddock

Area producers began hauling truckloads of sugar beets to Sidney Sugar’s Powder River Receiving Station last week. Three days into the harvest, which began on Friday, all-day rain showers created muddy conditions, delaying the harvest.
“It stopped it. It didn’t slow it - it stopped it,” Sidney Sugars Agriculture Manager Russ Fullmer said, noting some locations in the area received over an inch of rain.
Despite the untimely wet weather, this year’s sugar beet harvest has been a particularly welcome sight. That’s because last year, for the first time in the memories of many area producers, the crop was not grown in Custer, Prairie and Dawson counties. 
Growers opted not to grow the crop after a contractual agreement between the growers’ board and Sidney Sugars, a subsidiary of American Crystal Sugar Company, could not be reached.
This year about eight producers, who unload at the Powder River Receiving Station, are growing the crop with 868 acres allocated, according to Fullmer.
That’s only half of the number of area producers typically growing sugar beets and less acreage than has been allocated to the crop in recent years. Fullmer says he’s hopeful the crop’s popularity in the area is once again gaining ground.
“It’s an improvement over last year when we had zero (acres), “ Fullmer said. “We’re working our way up, hopefully.”
The two-year contract, signed by area producers and Sidney Sugars will enter its second season next year. Negotiations for a new contract will likely began next fall between the growers’ board and the company.
“Sugar prices are very high and this is a good time to get in,” Fullmer said, noting he’s hopeful more growers will choose to grow the crop.
With sugar content above average and “tonnage way up” Fullmer expects good results from this year’s crops.
An average of 140 loads are entering the Powder River Receiving Station daily. Harvesting is expected to finish this weekend at the earliest, but most likely will not be completed until Monday.
“We have two things that are going to delay us,” Fullmer said. “It’s the moisture and the freezing temperatures.”

Published Oct. 7, 2009

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