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Sugar beet producers see good yields, prices

While some commodities shot up and then fell precipitously in 2008--tanking along with much of the U.S. economy--sugar beet production saw a record year, both in yields and price. Yields in the western states of Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming averaged 22 to 26 tons per acre with 16 to 17 percent sugar for the 2008 harvest, according to officials at the Western Sugar Cooperative (WSC).

"It's a great time to be in the sugar beet business" said, Paul Schlagel, a Colorado sugar beet grower. "Sugar beets have consistently provided a good return on a grower's investment, without the volatility common in many other crops."

According to officials at WSC, which represents 1,400 growers in four western states, 2009 is shaping up to be another good year. WSC's optimism is based primarily on two factors: strong worldwide demand for sugar and the introduction of Roundup Ready beet seed.

Milling and Baking News in November reported that bulk beet sugar in the Midwest was going for 35 cents per pound in November 2008. WSC expects upward movement in wholesale sugar prices in 2009.

According to Paul Burgener, agricultural economist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the 2009 grower price for sugar beets is projected to be $45 to $50 per ton and the break-even cost is estimated to be $35 to $40 per ton.

Roundup Ready beet seed, which accounted for 58 percent of the U.S. sugar beet crop last year, is credited with providing higher yields by reducing input costs for fuel, labor and herbicides. WSC anticipates that 90 percent of the 2009 sugar acres will be planted in Roundup Ready seed.

According to recent research by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, sugar beets use about the same amount of water as corn. Sugar beets also are a good "scavenger" crop in that they capture residual nitrate at depths up to six feet below the surface, making sugar beets a good crop to rotate with corn or dry beans.

"Sugar beets have always been a good cash crop that fits well into a rotation, but the new seed technology and greater worldwide demand make 2009 exceptionally promising for sugar beet growers," said Schlagel.

The Western Sugar Cooperative was formed in 2002. It is comprised of 1,400 member growers who raise sugar beets on some 135,000 acres in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming. Processing facilities operated by the cooperative produce retail and restaurant sugar packets and bags and also supply sugar to confectioners and other food manufacturers. The cooperative also markets sugar beet byproducts of beet pulp, high energy molasses and other feeds for livestock.

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