Sugar Producer

August/September 2016

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Page 12 of 23 13 Sugarbeets are not as synonymous with California as they once were. The Golden State was the first state to grow sugarbeets commercially in 1870. Since then 11 factories have been constructed, operated and eventually closed since the first commercial beet factory was opened in 1870 near San Jose. The last beet factory in northern California closed in 2008, leaving only one operating in the state. That lone factory in Brawley is for growers in the Imperial Valley in southeastern Southern California. It was built by Holly Sugar Corporation at the end of World War II and opened in 1947. After a series of financial crises and bankruptcies, the Holly factory was acquired by Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in 2005 and is operated using the name Spreckels Sugar. Sugarbeets have been grown in the Imperial Valley since 1932. "We're the last man standing," said Curt Rutherford, 65, who grows beets in a partnership with his older brother, Thomas. "We own the farm equipment that we share. A couple of years ago we split the ground up. He's farming half, and I'm farming half. "California used to have over 200,000 acres in the mid-1980s," Curt said. "We had beets delivered to factories in California from the Oregon border and from the Mexican border." California harvested 24,600 beet acres in 2015, about 3.1 percent of beet production in the United States. Curt, a third-generation grower from the Imperial Valley, and his wife, Suzanne, 61, grow 325 acres of sugarbeets on their farm near Brawley, along with durum wheat, alfalfa and bermudagrass. "There is a lot of produce grown down here," Curt said. "A grower with a produce crop will go to a wheat crop to eliminate a lot of the nitrates. You get too many nitrates you have great tonnage but very low sugar. "One of the problems that we're facing in the Imperial Valley is having enough ground for crop rotations. Not everybody owns all the ground. They do a lot of leasing. In the last few years, organic vegetable production has come in. Once that ground goes organic it never will go back to conventional crop production and that includes the alfalfas, the wheats and the sugarbeets." The Rutherfords have three adult children; son, Justin, and daughters, Meghan and Erin, and eight grandchildren. "They all grew up," Curt said of his children. "They drove the tractors and did all that type of work through high school and coming back from college." Curt and his wife are members of their local Farm Bureau, and Curt presently serves as president of the California Beet Growers Association. The association was founded in 1931. He has been a member of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association since 1998. LONG HARVEST Beet harvest stretches from April and sometimes into August in California. "We're backwards from everybody else in the country that grows sugarbeets," Curt said. "We plant in September and October of the previous year. We overwinter the beets and start harvesting on April 1. Hoping the factory runs well, the beet crop is such that we can finish on Aug. 1." Curt's farm is located in the desert southwest, 30 miles from the Mexican border. The average high temperature in Brawley is over 100 degrees from June through September. The Imperial Valley receives the most sunlight of any location in the United States. "Our summertime temperatures do not allow us to store beets or put beets to piles that every other area is familiar with," Curt said. "So we have a daily quota from the factory that we dig and the factory will only take what's harvested in a 24-hour period so they can process those beets in a 24-hour period. The factory itself has storage for maybe about six to seven hours to slice." Curt and Suzanne Rutherford

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