Super sweet year for Malheur County beet growers

Doug Maag of Y-1 Farms accumulated a mountain of sugar beets from a strong harvest. Doug Maag of Y-1 Farms accumulated a mountain of sugar beets from a strong harvest.

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

VALE – The gray mountain that stretches several hundred yards across Doug Maag’s land is distinctive for its size but it also symbolizes an agriculture triumph.

“All the stars lined up this year,” Maag said as he viewed the massif of sugar beets produced from his fields.

This year local sugar beet producers – and Amalgamated Sugar Company, the firm that buys the local beet crop – experienced one of the most successful harvests in recent memory. The 2016 local sugar beet campaign mimicked 2015 in terms of success, said Jessica McAnally, communications specialist for Amalgamated in Nampa.

“We are looking at another record-breaking harvest,” McAnally said.

What that means is simple in the sugar beet world, McAnally said.

“We have more beets per ton, per acre and higher sugar content than we have ever had before,” McAnally said.

The profit in sugar beets derives from the sugar content, or sucrose percentage. McAnally said Amalgamated set a standard for sugar content in its beets this year.

“Our goal is 18 percent and it looks like we will get fairly close to that,” she said.

Moderate weather – as with the onion harvest – was one of the critical factors to the successful harvest, said Stuart Reitz, cropping systems agent for the Malheur County Extension Office.

“It has been a pretty good growing season. So, I think that is largely why things are looking so good. Plants haven’t been stressed,” he said.

“The growing season was so good that it exceeded everyone’s expectations. Everyone had a bump in yield,” said Maag, who has farmed beets his entire life.

Along with good weather, Maag said, the local area is a good place to grow beets.

“The Treasure Valley has good soil and good ground,” he said.

Maag, who operates Y-1 Farms near Willowcreek, said the average sugar beet yield locally was about 41 tons per acre.

“When I was a kid if we got 30 tons it was a big deal,” he said.

Maag said he attributes the better harvest in part to another crucial element – genetically modified and Roundup-resistant beets, which means they are easier to nurture. Before such innovations, he said, harvests proved harder, more costly and riskier.

“We had issues with weeds and diseases in the beets. Took a lot of time to spray and a lot of labor. The spray we used would almost kill the beets. But now that we have genetically modified, we can spray twice and we are done and the beets just grow,” he said.

Utilizing genetically modified beets also means a slight boost in production with less cost for such items as fuel, Maag said.

McAnally said the genetically modified sugar beets translate into higher yields.

“It has had far-reaching benefits as far as farm operations. We have seen through the continuation of using the technology that it has led to higher yields and higher sugar content,” MaAnally said.

Amalgamated operates sugar refineries in Nampa, Twin Falls and Paul Idaho.