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North Wyoming sugar beets worse than first thought

POWELL, Wyo. (AP)--Many sugar beet fields in northern Wyoming sustained more severe damage from an early frost than previously thought.

Western Sugar Cooperative officials and members of the Big Horn Basin Beet Growers Association came up with the gloomy assessment after touring fields across the Lovell factory district late last week.

"They really deteriorated a lot,'' said Ric Rodriguez, vice chairman of Western Sugar.

The early October freeze occurred just as farmers began to harvest what was expected to be a record sugar beet crop. Even after the freeze, there was hope that some of the damaged beets might recover enough to where they could still be processed into sugar.

But many of the beets remaining in the ground are so badly damaged that the co-op decided to stop harvesting for now.

In addition, the co-op already has a two- to three-week supply of harvested beets piled at receiving stations in Lovell to await processing, Rodriguez said.

Growers in some areas, such as Cody, escaped the most severe frost.

Fred Hopkin, who grows beets east of Powell, hoped to harvest beets last week but Western Sugar officials told him not to dig.

"They called us and shut us down'' Nov. 5, he said. "Our beets won't store long-term, and I realize that.''

He's still hoping to be able to dig up some of his beets if the weather remains warm enough and there is room to pile the beets at receiving stations.

Agriculture officials estimate losses from the freeze could surpass $12 million, and a federal disaster declaration was being sought.



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