Thursday, April 27, 2017

Beets: Idaho's cash crop

Sugarbeets break all-time production record

American Falls—Rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of American Falls farmer Conrad Isaak. He found out Wednesday morning that Amalgamated Sugar Company broke the all time beet processing record this year.

Amalgamated said that Idaho farmers harvested a record 7.2 million tons of sugar beets last year and they did it on 2,000 fewer acres and turned out 2.34 billion pounds of sugar.

“Theres a lot of pride with the growers over what we did and how we went about doing it. Beets are the best of the bad right now. Take a look at grain prices they’re in the $3’s and $4, that’s not good. I don't grow potatoes but I hear that they are not the best either. Beets are the most stable crop we’re growing right now and we’re proud,” said Isaak.

According to the University of Idaho, sugarbeet revenues are up 2-percent over last year. Isaak and his family harvested 350 acres of beets last year, they credit greater efficiency and using the best products out there.

“We had good beets with good tonnage and good sugar percentages across the board. I think our farming practices definitely improved and I have to thank the company, the field agronomists and consultants. They helped us a lot to do a better job,” said Isaak.

Amalgamated Sugar Company is owned by the Snake River Sugar Company, a cooperative owned by 750 producers that grow sugarbeets on about 182,000 acres in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Amalgamated credits their members with the production milestone.

“The ability to raise a quality sugarbeet crop and the capacity to process that crop requires highly-skilled dedicated people and cutting-edge technology on the farm and in the factories,” said company President and CEO John McCreedy.

McCreedy says without competitive advantages, the company would not have the sustainable agricultural practices or efficient factory operations. He says genetically engineered sugarbeet seed has nearly doubled productivity and allowed farmers to cut back on pesticides and save irrigation water.

“In my opinion we’re a lot better off today,” said Isaak. “We’re using less chemical and thats good for the environment and good for the beets.” 

Isaak says he sprays once or twice a year with roundup, if they have a spot problem, they’ll spray again.

“In the old days I spray a beta mix four or five times in a year and still not get them all. We’d have a crew of workers come in and hoe the beets and we could never find enough workers and never get rid of the weeds. Roundup makes it easy today, we don’t need as much labor and we’re not beating up the crop with all those chemicals, that’s why we had a record yield this past year,” said Isaak.

Isaak says besides roundup, all the conditions in raising the crop were perfect, and it could be years before all the conditions perfectly align again.

“I think it was really an abnormal year, to try and duplicate it would be tough quite honestly. We had the right amount of water, nice hot days and we planted early last year. We’re already late this year and I hope we can do it and keep building on the record, but I think it’s going to be a tough record to break,” said Isaak.

Isaak spent the day waiting to get planting equipment in the field, but heavy rains in Power County kept him from the fields. He did have time to mull over the great 2016 harvest, the harvest that all others will be compared for years to come.

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