Sugarbeet harvest

A truck lines up beside a sugarbeet digger in a field north of Scott Road near Rockford west of Blackfoot. They are hauling beets to the Liberty Beet Dump of Snake River Sugar Company. The beets will be covered with tarps when harvest is over and remain there until they’re hauled by rail to a sugar processing plant.

BLACKFOOT – While Bingham County’s potato harvest was winding down last week, the sugarbeet harvest was just getting a good start, and while beets are less sensitive to cold than potatoes, farmers who grow them are almost as anxious to get their crops out of the ground before permanent cold temperatures set in.

With 26,000 acres of sugarbeets to be harvested in the county, the Liberty Beet Dump west of Blackfoot — where beets from this area of the county are stored while waiting transport to a sugar factory — was a bewildering mass of trucks coming and going as they weighed their loads, dumped them, and rushed back to the fields to get another.

Where the ground was bare the previous week, as of Friday there were already four to five pyramids of beets stacked around Liberty.

While potato growers are paid for the weight of their crops, sugarbeet growers are paid on the basis of tonnage and sugar content. Wapello farmer Gene Evans said he began harvesting his 500 acres of beets last week. He’s about halfway done, and the word he’s getting is that this year’s crop is above average for both.

Jessica Anderson, communications specialist for Amalgamated Sugar Co., which processes the beets for the Snake River Sugar Co. growers cooperative, confirmed that. She said as of Oct. 15, the average sugar percentage of the county’s 2019 crop was 17.7, higher than the company-wide average of 17.48 percent.

Anderson said Bingham County is included in the Mini-Cassia Factory District, and harvest in the entire district is 50 percent complete.

Evans explained the anxiety in getting harvest over, noting that cultural practices of most all crops are changing with the passage of time as farmers learn more. “The thinking in my father’s day was that leaving the beets in the ground longer was a benefit because cold increased the sugar content,” he said, “and I can remember harvesting beets at Thanksgiving.”

Now the industry knows that’s not the case, Evans said. With weather behaving so erratically, the worry now is that even though the beet tops were killed by an early frost, Fall could bring a spell of high temperatures that would warm the beets to the point they started growing again. He said that would affect sugar content because it would go into growth so the grower would get less money.