Will drought make big sugar beet crop repeat tough in 2013?

Nick Lapaseotes, Bridgeport, Neb., is chairman of the Western Sugar Cooperative, with its operations in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.

Will the big U.S. sugar beet crop in 2012 be repeated in 2013? Not necessarily, says Nick Lapaseotes, Bridgeport, Neb., chairman of Western Sugar Cooperative, based in Denver, Colo. The large production from 2012 is one of the factors overhanging the 2013 sugar market.

“Three out of four of our states are facing water issues – lack of water,” Lapaseotes said, recently in Fargo at the International Sugarbeet Institute.

 The co-op has nearly 1,100 shareholders and 135,000 acres, with sugar processing plants at Billings, Mont.; Lovell and Torrington, Wyo.; Scottsbluff, Neb., and Ft. Morgan, Colo. Everybody relies on irrigation.

The company had a dry year last year and ended up with a record-high crop, says Lapaseotes, who was named chairman about three months ago. “Of course with no rain you get no hail, but in our situation we may not have enough water because a lot of the areas have wells and we’re in a pumping restriction. We can pump ‘X’ amount of water each year. And if you over-pump it goes against your allocation for the next year.”

Some of the other growers rely on river flows. “If you don’t have snow pack in the mountains they’re not going to have river flow, they’re not going to have ‘X’ amount of days to water their crops for this coming year.”   Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming are the shortest on water.

Colorado has different irrigation situation than the other states, he says. Restrictions are different and producers must augment back to the river. In Nebraska relies more on the river on how many inches can be pumped in a year. Wyoming is more based on river flows.

Western Sugar is facing the same sugar price challenges in 2013 and beyond that American Crystal Sugar Co. growers are.

Otherwise Western Sugar Cooperative has been doing well. The Roundup Ready beet development in the past five years has helped make weed control more effective, Lapaseotes says. Sugar tonnage has increased every year. Companywide, the yields average 27 to 28 tons per acre, with some areas with 40 ton averages. “We had our best crop ever in Nebraska, and that was right at a 29-ton crop,” Lapaseotes says.

Lapaseotes owns one of the Ropa self-propelled sugar beet harvesters that was attracting attention at the show.  Four companies had representatives at the trade show, but only Ropa brought a machine.

“We’ve run it for three seasons now,” Lapaseotes says, of the Ropa. He says four of them are operating in Nebraska. “We have a little bit of everything — sandy soil, some heavy ground,” he says. “This machine has allowed me to load all of the trucks in the field. Now, using this machine and using a beet cart, I can now rotate 100 percent of my acres into beets. Before, the hills were too steep or too sandy, to (the point) where you could never get trucks up and down the hills.”

He says the machine also leaves the ground behind the machine pretty smooth behind it, and a lot of the beet tops are still there to keep it from blowing. “A lot of times we’ve just plant wheat or rye as a cover crop behind the machine, and never worked the ground. It’s eliminated one pass for me on the working the ground after harvest, to smooth it off and plant wheat.”

Lapaseotes says he often is asked whether the new harvester means he can go with fewer employees. “Not really, for me, because we run 24 hours a day,” he says. “We always had two guys running the defoliator, two guys running the beet digger. Now, with the self-propelled, two guys are still running the digger and two others are running the beet cart. I’m using the same number of guys as I was before.”

The difference is that one person running the harvester can make all the adjustments he wants.

Kids at the show were running the $126 toy model of a machine that costs about $720,000 to own.

A boxed Ropa sugar beet harvester is on display at the International Sugarbeet Institute. The scale models cost $126 while the real machine is about $720,000.

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