Saturday, January 4, 2014

2013 Sugar Beet Harvest was a Challenging One

Metal dinosaurs come to life each fall across southern Idaho. Joints flex and belts whir to life at rural crossroads from Blackfoot to Nampa. Convoys of trucks unload sugar beets into the clanking creatures through the short fall days and into headlight-filled nights. 
The beet dragons arrange the roots into tidy piles that demonstrate betaine physics in their angle of repose.
Trucks shoulder past each other on the narrow roads between the “beet dumps” and the fleets of harvesters in the fields.
Each harvester is attended by a bevy of trucks waiting their turn for a high horsepower, high volume pas de deux across the corduroy soil. As one truck is filled and peels off, another smoothly cuts in to take its place.
When the beet fields are empty and the dumps are full, larger trucks carry the beets, which look like sturdy, white garden beets, to processing plants. The plants extract from the lumpily pyramid-shaped roots the granulated white sugar we use in cooking. Livestock eat the high fiber beet pulp that is left.
In 2013, Idaho sugar beet growers produced record high yields, but were hit by a double whammy of low sugar content in the beets and low prices for the crop. I wrote about the challenges of this year’s harvest in a recent issue of the Intermountain Farm & Ranch section of the Idaho Falls Post Register. Growers hope that new higher-sugar beet varieties and careful management will boost sugar contents, and profits, next season.

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