Sugar beet acreage reductions fall short
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Though sugar prices have been low, new USDA statistics show few Idaho growers took advantage of Amalgamated Sugar Co.'s offer allowing them to further reduce their sugar beet acreage without sacrificing shares in the company.
A June 28 acreage report by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service shows Idaho growers have cut their sugar beet planting from 183,000 acres in 2012 to 175,000 acres this season. Oregon growers, who planted 11,000 acres in 2012, planted 9,600 acres this year, and California growers planted 24,500 acres, the same as last year. Though NASS offered no Washington number, Snake River Sugar Co-op Chairman Duane Grant estimates its growers planted 1,900 sugar beet acres.
Nationally, growers planted 1,207,600 sugar beet acres, down from 1,230,100 acres.
Prompted by declining sugar prices, Amalgamated, which buys all of the sugar beets grown in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, reduced growers' acreages by 4 percent. Later on, as prices continued to decline due to oversupply, Amalgamated offered growers the option of curbing production by an addition 3.5 percent.
On March 28 -- when USDA projected Idaho growers would plant 176,000 acres, Oregon growers would plant 10,500 acres and U.S. growers would plant 1,201,100 acres -- Grant anticipated the projected reductions would be conservative due to Amalgamated's offer allowing them to further reduce their sugar crops.
"Growers pretty much stuck with their earlier plans," Grant said in response to the June NASS report. "Growers had their plans pretty well set by the time they understood the magnitude of the price decline."
Grant believes the acreage reductions will be "inconsequential" to improve low prices that are now about the same as in the early 1980s at about 20 cents per pound of raw sugar. However, he expects yields will be significantly reduced this season.
He noted 82,500 acres -- equal to 44.3 percent of the company's planted acreage in Idaho, Washington and Oregon -- had to be replanted this season due to frost or strong winds.
"In Amalgamated's territory, we had our highest percentage of replanted acres in history," Grant said. "In the other significant production areas, primarily in Red River Valley in Michigan, it was wet and their crop went in late."
But Grant said lower yields, alone, won't be enough to make sugar profitable this season.
"Absent some other remarkable weather event, just the lateness of getting this year's crop in the ground will not materially affect the oversupply of sugar that's available to the market right now," Grant said.