SIDNEY, Mont. – While some producers in the green Yellowstone Valley still have crops to harvest, all producers still have beets in the ground to dig up.

Sidney Sugars has not started up the factory due to the unusual weather.

“All of us have had to put off starting beet harvest because it has been so rainy and cold,” said Sarah Rachor, who farms with her dad, Mike Degn, on their farm, Fresh Hopped Farm, south of Sidney.

Because of the wet beet rows and moist ground, Rachor pulls on her boots when she goes outside to clean and maintain equipment and check on her soybean and beet crops.

The weather in northeastern Montana has been chilly and windy, in the 50s, but a couple of nights ago (Sept. 25), it was down into the 30s. 

Along with that, there have been some major rain events. The Rachor/Degn farm received some 14 inches of rain in a week. Needless to say, they haven’t had to do any irrigating lately.

“We could have almost got in our fields to start digging beets. We have lighter soil, so after a week of wind, it isn’t too bad at our farm, but other farmers north of us have had even more rain,” she said. “Ten years ago, when my Dad came back to the farm after taking some time off from farming, his first beet harvest was like this – rainy and cold.”

Sarah explained that once the factory starts up, it cannot stop. There must be a continual supply of beets coming in until it shuts down. In addition, Sidney Sugars wants to ensure their beet piles stay cool and dry to prevent rotting.

Before last year, when the factory started digging early for beets, the normal beet digging and hauling to the factory still began around Sept. 28.

“So it will be a late beet harvest, even for past years,” Sarah said.

There is also an issue for beet growers who must come from the north side of town to reach the factory.

“Road construction is not finished yet, and there is a dirt road that trucks would have to cross. It is probably pretty muddy right now,” she said.

The soybeans at their farm also need to dry out before they can harvest them.

“The soybeans are still too wet to cut,” Sarah said. “So we’re in a holding pattern right now, and the forecast is calling for more rain and cold weather.”

Sarah is glad the hops are harvested, bagged and in the freezer, ready to sell. That is one crop finished for the year.

“My husband took some hops back to Butte for fresh beer when he went back to work, and the rest is dried and bagged,” she added.

Meanwhile, Sarah took Megan, their daughter, to get the stitches out of her knee. Even so, Megan still wanted to go right back to school.

“Megan really loves school,” Sarah said.

After harvest, Sarah plans to enjoy some time before getting back to work. There is the Northeast Arts Network that brings in excellent musicians to some of the rural cities, so these rural areas can have good music to enjoy, like the bigger cities.

“We buy season tickets and someone always goes to them. We really enjoy the music,” Sarah said. Her mother, Jill, was on the board that organized the Northeast Arts Network many years ago.

Sarah said they have already been cleaning the shop as they wait for harvest to start up.

“You would not believe how clean the shop is,” she said.

For two days before the Sept. 28-30 weekend, the Sidney area enjoyed some sun, even with the cool temperatures. That helped the leaves on the beets dry some.

Crop prices are still not doing well, and Sarah heard some elevators were charging for “invisible sprouting.” Even though the crops coming in now have no sprouting, producers are being charged for what might happen in the future to the crop.

Sarah plans to call around and make sure the places she takes her crops are not charging that way.

“We are getting a lower price for our beets this year, so I don’t want to sell our beans for less,” she added.

Sarah continues to be active on the Montana Farmers Union Policy Committee as they gear up for their annual convention on Oct. 25-26 in Great Falls.

“Farming is changing rapidly and with our government in a bit more of a chaotic state than usual, we need to make sure we are analyzing our state policies so they align with what farmers and ranchers want, as well as giving our lobbyists the tools to effectively do their job in Helena,” Sarah said.

Next year will be Sarah’s third year of returning to the farm. She knows for sure she will be planting beets and wheat, and most likely soybeans, but she’s looking into alternative grains such as flax, as well.

(As this is Sarah Rachor’s last report, we want to thank her sincerely for her reports, and her beautiful photos, as well. In addition, Sarah has an optimism for farming that is so refreshing and it is easy to see that she loves it. As a young farmer on the Montana Farmer’s Union Board, she plans to continue to be an advocate for farmers and farming. We wish Sarah the best of luck in all her future endeavors.)

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