Though extreme summer heat and dryness wreaked havoc on major Idaho crops such as potatoes and grain this season, the state’s farmers are optimistic they’ll at least harvest a solid sugar beet crop.
Mike Garner, chairman of the board of Snake River Sugar Cooperative, which is the grower-owned cooperative that owns and operates Amalgamated Sugar Co., anticipates the 2021 beet crop will produce “stable” tonnage and “highly encouraging” sugar content.
The company’s growers are wrapping up their early beet harvest, and Garner, who farms in the Raft River area, said it’s clear that the beets withstood the summer heat better than many in the industry anticipated.
“The tonnage looks to be normal. ... I don’t think it’s going to be a record year,” Garner said. “You’re seeing some reports that yields are down and some reports that yields are up.”
Garner explained beet growers didn’t have to make nearly as many replants this season as they did in 2020, but they coped with a challenging spring, with frosts and strong winds. He said the wind dried soil and hindered crop emergence.
“Then at the first of June the crop seemed to take off pretty well,” Garner said. “The heat set in for June and July, and I was pleased by the way the crop grew through the heat. ... They seemed to size up really well through August.”
Garner said beets don’t fare as well as corn in extreme heat, but they tend to handle hot weather better than potatoes and grain. Cool nights throughout September have helped beets accumulate a higher percentage of sugar, and Garner said sugar levels should continue increasing well into October, absent an early hard frost.
“All and all we’re off to a good start,” Garner said.
Declo farmer Mike Wheeler said his malt barley crop was about 10 bushels per acre below average, but he’s much happier with his beet fields.
“They look excellent, they really do — very few weeds,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said he’s also been relieved that extremely smoky skies throughout much of the summer haven’t seemed to hurt his beet yields.
“If anything it’s kept temperatures down,” Wheeler said of the smoke.
In Rupert, Duane Grant said yields are coming in at or above his farm’s budget projection in early harvest.
“Sugar content is a percentage higher than I would have anticipated at this time of the year,” Grant added.
Grant is optimistic that both yields and sugar levels will exceed his projections when he conducts his late-season beet harvest.
“It looks like beets are going to be the crop that did best in the extreme heat this year. We think corn silage will also be good,” Grant said. “Everything else is off 10 to 15 percent — small grains, potatoes, mustard, onions.”
Grant said it’s also good news for beet growers that acreage contracts that were cut by 5 percent two years ago due to capacity constraints at the processing plant have been fully restored this season. Early beet harvest started a bit sooner than normal this year to help the plant get a jump on slicing and boiling beets. Investments are being made to further bolster plant capacity, Grant said.
American Falls farmer Andy Povey started his early beet harvest on Aug. 31, which was the earliest date he’s ever dug beets. Though his wheat yields were down by about 15 percent due to the heat, his beets are a bright spot on his farm.
He said general harvest starts on Oct. 4.
“The yields look good and the sugars are excellent. It should be a nice crop,” Povey said.