Sugar beet harvest begins following tough growing year

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MID-MICHIGAN (WJRT) - (09/09/19) - It's been a roller coaster ride for farmers trying to weather this growing season. First there was too much rain, then there wasn't enough.

Monday, Sept. 9 their hard work started to come out of the ground.

"We're a little bit later this year than we normally are, we're about three weeks late," said Michigan Sugar Executive Vice President Jim Ruhlman. "We got off to a terrible start this spring with some wet weather. So we just needed a little more time for the crop to develop, so today's start day."

Each day a fresh batch of sugar beets will move from local farms to the four Michigan Sugar factories in Bay City, Caro, Croswell and Sebewaing.

The beets will be sliced daily. Michigan Sugar won't begin piling them up until later in October.

The roads between the farms and factories will be busy.

"They have a full load of beets in their semis, and my message is to be cautious and to be courteous and to be patient," Ruhlman said.

Growers certainly had to be patient this year. "Considering our spring and the extremely dry August that we had, I think we're lucky to be where we are," Ruhlman said.

Ruhlman said this year's harvest varies quite a bit depending on if the beets were planted before or after the heavy spring rain.

Overall Ruhlman said the amount of sugar inside each beet is decent, but there are fewer acres to harvest.

"Our farmers have done a phenomenal job managing this crop," Ruhlman said. "When you get in late and manage the disease and weed pressure and insect pressure that they're faced with, when you look at this crop, it's a phenomenal crop given the conditions that we faced."

And while there's still a lot of work to do on this year's harvest, some growers already have their sights set on next year.

"Everyone is ready for this year to be over with honestly," said Jade Ackerman with Ackerman Farms in Tuscola County. "I just think things have been flying from every direction."

Despite Mother Nature's roller coaster ride, Ackerman told us the harvest won't be a complete wash. "The sugar beet crop isn't looking too bad for what we've been dealt weather-wise. We do our due diligence with spraying, keeping the fungicide and weeds out of field. That's about the only thing we can control," she said.

Ackerman Farms was able to plant sugar beets before the heavy, seemingly-never-ending spring rain. Growers in the same boat appear to be fairing better than those who planted late.

"We planted everything that we're supposed to," Ackerman said.

She added the beets have a decent sugar content which helps boost pricing. "Pre-harvest test results for sugar came back and they were pretty good, so we're very optimistic about the crop this year," AckermaN said.

The Ackermans haven't started their sugar beet harvest just yet, but some neighbors down the road have. They could all use some rain.

"I asked him how harvest was going and he said, 'dusty'," Ackerman shared.

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