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POWELL, Wyo. - Cold weather has put an end to the sugar beet harvest in northern Wyoming's Big Horn Basin, leaving about 30 percent of the crop in the ground.

Ric Rodriguez, vice chairman of the Western Sugar Cooperative board of directors, said co-op officials and Big Horn Basin Sugar Beet Growers Association representatives agreed last Friday to stop the harvest.

Beets still in the field are already in bad condition, and the latest cold spell is enough to freeze the entire root and render the beets unsuitable for processing into sugar, Rodriguez said.

Many growers in the Big Horn Basin were anticipating a record crop until severe frost hit in early October and damaged the crop just as the harvest was beginning. The federal government is considering a disaster declaration because of the freeze damage.

Most growers who still have sugar beets in the field likely will be plow them into the ground, Rodriguez said.

"September 1st was a wonderful time to be a sugar beet farmer," beet grower Fred Hopkin said. "Now a lot has changed."

With sugar content dwindling and the condition of the beets deteriorating, Hopkin said he understands why the harvest ended. But he wishes growers had been given one more chance to dig beets at the end of November. Instead, Western Sugar officials suspended the dig because of problems with piled beets.

Some harvested beets are not storing well, and sugar content in the processed beets continues to drop, Rodriguez said.

"Beets are burning sugar in the pile," he said.

Klodette Stroh, national sugar chairwoman of Women in Farm Economics, said Monday she hopes for action after the first of the year on the $12 million disaster declaration sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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