RUPERT, Idaho — Amalgamated Sugar Co. officials say their early harvest results suggest they’ll equal or exceed last season’s record sugar beet yields, despite facing harsh growing conditions this season.
Duane Grant, chairman of the board with Snake River Sugar Co., which owns Amalgamated, explained the Idaho and Oregon sugar beet crops got off to a slow start due to cool spring weather, which was followed by the arrival of excessive heat in June.
The company, nonetheless, projects its growers will at least equal the 41 tons-per-acre of beets they averaged during last year’s harvest — and Grant said it’s possible they could set a record yield for a fourth consecutive year.
“They came out of a cooler spring than normal and a hotter summer than normal with good yields,” said Grant, of Rupert. “We really attribute that to the steady improvement in the quality of the genetics of the crop we plant today.”
Grant noted this was the first season that growers planted a variety developed specifically for Idaho’s conditions, and more Idaho-specific varieties will be released next season.
However, Grant anticipates the sugar content in each beet will be down significantly from last season, resulting in less finished sugar production for the company. He said Amalgamated projects its average sugar content will be about 17.5 percent, compared with 18.3 percent last season.
“In my own personal harvest, we’re seeing yields comparable with last year and up slightly,” Grant said. “My sugar is down half a percent to a full percent.”
Grant said growers are anticipating a profitable year, nonetheless, based on the strength of the domestic sugar market.
American Sugar Alliance economist Jack Roney said several factors have aligned to create a “bullish” U.S. sugar market outlook. Primarily, Roney said the U.S. recently reached an agreement with Mexico that effectively ends ongoing dumping of subsidized Mexican sugar onto the U.S. market. Based on the elimination of market “uncertainty” due to the agreement, Roney said U.S. wholesale refined sugar prices have risen from 28 cents per pound to about 33 cents during the past half year.
Roney said damage to sugar cane production caused by hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana could also affect sugar prices.
“I think the price outlook going into this harvest is probably the best that it’s been in several years,” Roney said, emphasizing the U.S. sugar program effectively caps domestic sugar prices by allowing more foreign imports to address possible shortages.
Roney said world prices would need to rise for U.S. sugar prices to make steeper gains, and he doesn’t see that happening any time soon.
Amalgamated growers started their early harvest on Sept. 8. The company’s growers planted 178,000 acres, down 2.5 percent from last season, as its factories had reached their production capacity, Grant said. For the budget year that began Sept. 1, Amalgamated increased funding to improve operations at its factories by 60 percent. Grant said the company has already commenced with work to remove factory “bottlenecks” so “any kind of a hiccup doesn’t become catastrophic.”