Sugar-beet harvest nears record in Northern Colorado

GREELEY – The 2012 sugar-beet harvest in Northern Colorado came close to the record 2010 harvest thanks to scorching heat and genetically modified seed.

Amid a drought, this year’s harvest yielded an average 30.77 tons per acre with a sugar content of 16.44 percent in Weld, Larimer and Boulder counties. In 2010, the harvest yielded a slightly higher average of 31 tons per acre, Mike Otto, senior agriculturist for the Western Sugar Cooperative, said.

“It’d be real close to the highest that we’ve had,” Otto said about this year’s sugar-beet harvest compared with the one in 2010. He added that this year’s sugar contents were average.

The entire cooperative, which includes farmers in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska, reported a record harvest of 29.8 tons per acre containing 17.48 percent sugar. This year’s crop outperformed that of 2010, when tons per acre averaged 26.97 with 17.29 percent sugar.

Northern Colorado sugar-beet farmers had plenty of heat this year to grow the bumper crop.

“The beets love heat: That’s the reason we had a hot year,´ said Richard Seaworth, who farms sugar beets near Wellington.

In northeast Colorado and a portion of southwest Nebraska, a region tracked by the cooperative, farmers harvested a record average 32.37 tons per acre, Otto said. The 2012 harvest breaks a record average of 29.5 tons per acre in 2010.

Seaworth also attributed the successful yield to a genetically modified seed developed by Monsanto that enables sugar beets to withstand weed-killer Roundup. U.S. and Canadian farmers started using the technology during the 2008-2009 crop season.

Using the seed, farmers can more easily control weeds that compete with sugar beets for nutrients, light and moisture.

Farmers also received water from the Poudre River blackened by ash-filled runoff from the High Park fire that cities could not use. Timely rains and reservoir water added to crop growth.

Despite this year’s significant harvest, Seaworth is concerned about the drought continuing through next year, leading to draining of reservoirs relied on by farmers.

“We’re very worried about next year,” he said.

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