- Agronomic: sugarbeets
- Crop Production: winter storage
- Farm Business Management: risk management
- Pest Management: prevention
Extreme weather has impacted Montana sugarbeet harvest the past three years. In 2018/2019, early
snowstorms caused sugar losses so significant, USDA provided disaster assistance. Despite that, growers lost
money on the 2019 crop. This year, record-breaking heat quickly transitioned to recorded-breaking cold.
Harvest was delayed since sugarbeets cannot be stored if they are piled too hot and was cut short since
sugarbeets can’t be stored once frozen. The harvest window now is impossibly short to harvest every acre. Unharvested acres reduce beet payments cooperative-wide and ultimately price individual growers like me out
of risk coverage (insurance). With new conditions, post-harvest sugarbeet handling needs re-evaluation.
Elsewhere, farmers use smaller, on-farm storage piles called clamps in addition to/in place of large, regionalized
pile grounds. Although it cannot be implemented universally, I believe the clamp system would work in certain
regions of Montana, allowing farmers to harvest sugarbeets faster than capable solely with regional pile
grounds. However, clamps are not thoroughly vetted in Montana, so we don’t know the risk of storing beets in
smaller piles. This project is necessary to show initial viability of this approach. Ultimately, I believe the strategic
use of clamps is one route to allow growers like me to safely speed up harvest, adapting to climate-change
induced weather changes. Shortening harvest will increase grower profitability/confidence, increase land use
efficiency, reduce food waste and alleviate grower stress. Data from this project will justify wider-scale clamp
testing across Western Sugar when project results are disseminated to all grower-owners.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Determine efficacy of local, on-farm storage piles (a.k.a clamps)
- Share findings Cooperative management and farmer-owners to evaluate alternatives to regional, off-farm
piles (a.k.a. pile grounds)