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Gabel wraps up a successful early harvest


Greg Gabel felt right at home running the beet digger for the first time during early harvest.

HUNTLEY, Mont. – This has been a growing season to remember for generational sugarbeet farmer Greg Gabel. A super dry winter had Greg apprehensively putting seed into the ground, unsure if there would ever be enough moisture to grow the crop. High wind storms shortly after planting mowed over an entire field and then torrential late spring moisture bulged the Yellowstone River and caused flooding. And then, it turned hot, and Greg was doing all he could just to keep his beets irrigated.

Needless to say, Greg’s first year as a farmer has been a real baptism by fire. However, all of the hard work, trials, and tribulations are starting to pay off as Greg was able to see the fruits of his labor during early harvest from Sept. 9-11.

During a phone update on Sept. 12, Greg was happy to say that his first-ever sugarbeet harvest went really quite well.

“We had four trucks going so I was able to keep the digger going and there wasn’t much waiting around. I was able to get the required amount of beets harvested in three days, so that was good,” he said.

Although raised on the farm, Greg had never before ran the beet digger himself. That was always his dad’s job during harvest, but the time had come to pass the torch. Leroy, his dad, gave Greg a crash course on how to run the machine, wished his son luck, and happily left the farm for a vacation.

“Dad showed me how to run the digger and then he just took off, and he is still gone,” Greg said with a chuckle during the phone interview.

After much contemplation, Greg decided to harvest one field entirely for early harvest instead of opening up all of the fields, as was his initial thought.

“With the weather and everything else, it just made sense to get one field out. With early harvest only being three days, I wouldn’t have gotten my tonnage in if I had gone through and opened up every field,” he explained.

Despite the year’s tumultuous weather, Greg said his beets looked better than he had expected. The field he harvested averaged well, so Greg is realistically predicting his crop will average around 30 tons per acre once harvest is all complete.

“A 30-ton average will pay the bills,” he stated.

Greg isn’t going to have much time to celebrate his successful, first early harvest. Early harvest can really be thought of as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts. It gives the sugarbeet producers a chance to work through some operation kinks and it gives the Western Sugar factory an opportunity to do a test run, as well. True harvest will begin Oct. 6, so the reality is that Greg now needs to buckle down, work on equipment, and make sure he is ready for the real show.

“I’ve got a list of things I need to fix on the digger, the defoliator, and a couple of the trucks need some work, as well, so I will spend the next couple of weeks working on those,” he said.

Although it was his very first harvest, so to speak, Greg said the experience passed with little fanfare. He was so focused on getting the job done that early harvest just passed by as another day in the life. It makes sense though, being a sugarbeet farmer is in Greg’s blood.

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