SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. – The newly updated Western Sugar Cooperative facility in Scottsbluff drew a good crowd to the annual Sugar Tour the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 5. Participants were treated to a tour of the facility as well as a catered meal and videos reviewing the history of the sugar beet industry in the North Platte Valley, including sugar beet harvest.
Leading off the presentation, agronomist Michael Ann Relka reviewed the history of the cooperative. She said growers purchased the company from Tate and Lyle, an international company, in 2002. Western contributes $124 million annually to the area economy, and during harvest, the Scottsbluff operation has nearly 300 employees. She added that some phase of the plant runs year-round, processing various co-products.
Tracy Bentley, production manager, followed with a presentation on the sugar making process and the resulting products, from the time beets are unloaded at the plant until sugar is packaged and shipped. She said it takes about 14 hours to produce sugar from the time beets enter the facility until it is ready to be stored in silos and/or packaged.
She noted that the Scottsbluff factory processes molasses from all of the company plants: Billings, Mont., Fort Morgan, Colo., Torrington and Lovell, Wyo., and Scottsbluff.
“We produce sugar close to 11 months of the year,” Bentley told her listeners.
Addressing the company’s difficulties during the past year as a result of the upgrades at the Fort Morgan and Scottsbluff facilities, Jerry Darnell, Western’s Vice President of Agriculture, said, “This past year has been a learning a curve,” but he is confident they have turned the corner, and with new processing managers and familiarity with the equipment, the plants are producing pretty much as planned.
Wrapping up the evening, Darnell said he is pleased with results to date with the 2017 crop. He explained that the local crop averaged 31.2 tons per acre, with a 17.5 percent sugar content. The Fort Morgan crop averaged 35.5 tons per acre, with a 17.25 percent
“Harvest ran from Labor Day until Nov. 10, and we had a really good crop,” Darnell said. “The piles are stable and we expect to complete processing at Torrington and Scottsbluff the last week in February.”
The annual Sugar Tour is sponsored by the Scottsbluff/Gering Chamber of Commerce AgriBusiness Committee. Proceeds are invested in scholarships for area college students majoring in agriculture.