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Sugar harvest

A runner passes a growing pile of sugar beets at the Western Sugar refinery as the harvest gets under way in September.

A hard frost and two early season snowstorms in Carbon County have wrecked portions of the sugar beet crop in the region, prompting county commissioners there to issue a disaster declaration. 

The declaration will allow the farmers to seek federal aid. 

Commissioners were approached by the Southern Montana Sugar Beet Growers Association, which reported that its farmers had lost 18% of their crop and saw a drop of three tons per acre in yield. Among the crop already harvested, farmers figured their beets had lost 1% of their sugar content. 

"Frost really was the killer," said Tom Kohley, disaster and emergency services director for Carbon County. 

Along with the damaged crop, the association anticipates that payments to farmers will be 58.5% of what was projected at planting, Kohley said. That likely will result in a significant economic impact to Carbon County farmers and the sugar beet association.

That, in large part, is what prompted the disaster declaration, which allows sugar beet farmers to become eligible for disaster relief funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus. 

"This is the first declaration of this type I've seen come across the commissioners' desk," Kohley said. 

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It's not a typical disaster, but it was a weather event that did real damage to sugar beets in the region, he said. That will have a serious impact, he added.

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Elsewhere in Eastern Montana along the Yellowstone and Big Horn rivers, sour weather brought the beet harvest to an abrupt end in November with more than 1,000 acres going unharvested.

September rain, followed by the second coldest October on record left farmers in south-central and Eastern Montana with few harvest-worthy days. Ultimately, the clock ran out, farmers said.

The frost and early season snowstorms in Carbon County weren't the first weather events this year to make life hard for residents. 

In March, at least 40 Red Lodge residents were left with no running water after service pipes that run from the city's water main to individual homes froze. The pipes stayed frozen for a month, forcing the city to issue its own emergency declaration and provide residents with bottled water. 

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