Sugar beet crop losses

Published: Feb. 15, 2020 at 7:28 PM CST
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Some farmers in northern Wyoming are facing a devastating loss, after an early freeze shut down the sugar beet harvest. But as Wendy Corr reports, this is only the latest in a series of hardships for growers.

Sugar beets are a mainstay crop in Wyoming. But in northern Wyoming, where the growing conditions are optimal, farmers who grow sugar beets are facing a hardship like they’ve not seen in generations.

Between a hard frost last fall that left sugar beets frozen in the ground, and mounting costs for renovations in other factories in the Western Sugar cooperative, sugar beet growers in the Bighorn Basin are facing a grim financial future. That’s according to Kurt Dobbs, the agronomist and field representative for the Bighorn Coop in the northern half of the Bighorn Basin.

“The farmers around this area, they grow really good beets. They’re very good at growing them, they’re very good at yield. But they have some dysfunction within their company, so we have three years in a row that they haven’t received the money that they need to receive for their crop.”

Casey Crosby is a fourth-generation sugar beet grower in Cowley. Crosby, who also has a masters degree in business, says the reality of their situation is hitting hard.

“It’s a challenging time in agriculture in general, but right now, with the issues we’ve had with our co-op, and then the weather on top of that, it’s crippled a lot of farmers.”

I spoke with Rodney Perry, the CEO of the Western Sugar Cooperative, based in Denver. He says that the organization is working with the USDA on a disaster relief program that may provide area farmers with some much-needed assistance. Because the loss was caused by a frost, the government can come in and help us with a disaster relief payment, and honestly, it will probably be the difference between a lot of guys being able to farm next year or not.

Crosby is one of the lucky ones - of the four thousand acres that he farms with another local grower, only 700 of those acres are sugar beets. But there are many other farmers whose livelihoods depend on the sugar beet crop.

“The farmers have to get paid for their sugar beets and they haven’t been, so if it continues on, you will see farmers going bankrupt.”