Beet harvest

Workers on a piler at the Liberty sugarbeet dump were waiting for a truck to arrive so they could unload onto a pile of beets that grew ever higher. Trucks that earlier in the harvest were arriving anywhere from eight to 10 at a time had slowed to a trickle Friday as the harvest wound down.

BLACKFOOT – Harvesting of Bingham County’s 2019 sugarbeet crop was down to the wire at the end of the week, with the last of the 26,000 acres planted coming out of the ground.

The harvest started on Sept. 4 this year and went on for a week before it was stopped by a rainy spell at the beginning of October. It started up again but was brought to a halt a second time by the unseasonably frigid temperatures that hit before Halloween and froze the ground, this time for an entire week.

Jack Williams, foreman at the Liberty Siding beet dump off Highway 39 between Rockford and Pingree, said what’s left of the harvest in Bingham County resumed Monday. “We had to shut down to give the ground time to warm up,” Williams said.

Some growers were lucky and got their harvests completed early, but those who didn’t have been working at a frantic pace to get their crops out of the ground and tucked away under cover on the chance that the freezing temperatures will return and persist.

Alice Elison, who operates the tare shed at the sugarbeet dump, said crews there have been working 14 1/2 hours a day at top speed, unloading a truck every one and a half to two minutes.

Alice has worked the Liberty Siding tare shed for years, the place through which the sugarbeets pass on a conveyor belt that allows dirt clods, rocks and other debris known as “tare” to drop off on the way to one of the beet piles, and where a sample from each truckload is collected in a Naugahyde bag about the size of a pillow case to be tested for sugar content, she said.

But she won’t be there for the finish of this year’s harvest. She and her husband are snowbirding it down in Arizona while they visit their grandchildren. “I quit the shed on Oct. 31,” Alice said over the telephone, adding that Oct. 31 is the date by which the beet harvest is done in normal years.

Sugarbeet growers are paid for their crop by the percentage of sugar that can be produced from it as well as tonnage, and Jessica Anderson, communications specialist for Amalgamated Sugar Co., which processes the sugarbeets, said the outlook is good for Bingham County growers this year.

Anderson said Bingham is part of the Mini-Cassia District of the Snake River Sugar Cooperative, and as of Nov. 5, sugarbeets grown locally were outdoing the rest of the district for sugar content. She said in mid- October the ratio was 17.7 percent while the district average was 17.48 percent. This week Anderson said sugar content for Bingham County growers was 17.92 percent, still higher than the district-wide average.

The sugarbeet piles, dotting Liberty Siding like so many mesas sprung from the ground, will be covered with tarpaulins and remain there until they’re needed at the processing plant. Then they’ll be loaded onto railroad cars and transported out.