POWELL - After last year's record-setting sugar beet crop in the Bighorn Basin of northern Wyoming, agriculture experts believe area growers are primed for another good crop this year even though there are concerns in some areas about a lack of moisture.
"Last year was a pretty phenomenal year," said Mark Bjornestad, senior agriculturist with Western Sugar Co. in Lovell. "It'd really be something to top last year."
Bighorn Basin beet growers last year racked up an average sugar content of around 18 percent and shattered records with a 23-ton-per-acre yield.
"Unless we run into some disease problems, I don't see any reason why these old boys won't be able to do it again," said Jim Gill, area ag extension agent. "If it does happen again, it'd be another tremendous growing season."
Both Bjornestad and Gill agreed that water is a concern for area producers, but they expect water supplies should hold out through this summer.
"Buffalo Bill (Reservoir) is holding pretty decent," Bjornestad said. "It's really not at a bad level for this time of year. Most producers are pretty optimistic that we'll have enough to get the crop started and, with some conserving, everybody's pretty optimistic that we'll be able to get through the summer."
Gill said Powell-area farmers may be doing best in terms of water when compared to producers in other parts of the Basin, especially the Emblem-Burlington area.
"There's a lot of concern across the Basin, though," he said. "We sure need a good spring with some spring storms and rains. If we don't get those, some areas are going to be in pretty tough shape."
Bjornestad said he expects some farmers to begin planting beets around the first week of April. The majority will be in the ground by April 20.
"The big day is really coming up soon," he said. "Guys are getting ready."
Gill said whether or not this year's beet crop will live up to last year's bar-setting example really has to do with the first month or so immediately after planting.
"That's when the greatest challenge comes - getting them up and going," he said. "If producers are able to get beets up and emerged and growing, they'll be in good shape."
A hard frost or a strong wind after beets are in the ground could hamper the chances of a bumper crop come fall, Gill said.
While Bjornestad could not say for sure whether or not Western Sugar would increase in sugar beet acreage or not this year, he did say interest in doing so is high.
"After last year, there's sure interest for more," he said. "Guys were pretty happy with last year's crop, and there's an excitement this spring to get in the field and see what we can do."
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