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The Associated Press

WORLAND, Wyo. (AP) — Sugar beet farmers have been seeking outside investors to help buy a processing factory from its bankrupt owner, Imperial Sugar.

The Holly Sugar Factory, an economic mainstay in the community, could close if farmers fail to buy it. The Washakie Beet Growers Association has been negotiating a purchase deal with Imperial Sugar and would run the factory as a cooperative.

While talks have progressed well, the group’s members have felt financially pressed by the difficult growing season, said Dick McKamey, association president.

“The time to buy is when we’re in this situation,” he said.

One proposal offered at a recent public meeting would have investors buy units of land at $75 each. The factory needs 20,000 acres of sugar beets to stay afloat, said Dave Hamilton of Wyoming Gas, who developed the proposal.

If the factory closes, Wyoming Gas would lose customers, Hamilton said.

Officials have estimated that 400 to 500 local jobs stem from the sugar beet industry.

Wyoming Gas is ready to help out by buying 2,000 units, Hamilton said.

“My opinion is if we don’t act now — now is the important part — we’re going to lose more beet acreage,” Hamilton said. “Then we will lose the opportunity because the factory cannot operate on 12,000 to 14,000 acres of sugar beets.”

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The group has signed a one-year lease of the factory to allow more time for purchase negotiations.

The 157-year-old Sugar Land, Texas-based company is the largest U.S. processor and marketer of refined sugar under brands including Imperial, Spreckels, and Holly.

Holly Sugar produces sugar in a multistate area that includes Wyoming. In Wyoming, Holly Sugar also operates a refinery in Torrington and a seed research laboratory in Sheridan.

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