This story was first published Oct. 25, 2014, under the headline, “Sugar beets to sugar bag: Everything you never knew about what goes on inside Nampa’s Amalgamated plant, including why it smells.”
Paul Rasgorshek walked over rows of sugar beets, their stalks and thick leaves already lopped and picked up by machinery, leaving white nubs shining like white dollar coins as the beets awaited harvesting.
It was Oct. 16, a few days into the beet harvest at Rasgorshek Farms about 10 miles southwest of Nampa. Rasgorshek, like the rest of the beet farmers in the Treasure Valley, was working against the calendar to get his beets out of the ground and delivered by Thanksgiving.
The day before, his crews had to stop harvesting at 3 p.m. to prevent the beets from warming higher than the 55-degree maximum permitted by the buyer of all Idaho sugar beets, Amalgamated Sugar Co. This day was a little cooler, and Rasgorshek hoped his crews could work a longer day, running machinery that slices off the tops and harvesting the beets. Cloudy skies help.
“Most people don’t like inversions, but we love them,” Rasgorshek said. “It keeps them cold. With the big crops we had this year and last year, we’ll throw beets away if we aren’t careful.”
Sugar beets are big business in Idaho, where about 4,000 workers are directly involved in growing and harvesting beets and 1,500 work in processing. About 450 growers are members of the Snake River Sugar Co., the co-op that owns Amalgamated. The company buys all of the sugar beets harvested in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, and brings in around $1 billion a year in revenue.
The Nampa plant, which can be seen and smelled from Interstate 84, employs 400 Treasure Valley residents year-round, and an additional 100 during the five-month peak starting with the harvest.
This is Rasgorshek’s 32nd beet harvest. He farms 175 acres of sugar beets, a small sum considering the rest of his 5,200 acres are devoted to alfalfa seed, mint, wheat, onion and carrot seed.
Rasgorshek, 52, is optimistic his tonnage will beat last year’s yield of 43 tons per acre. He’s also hoping for higher than 17% sugar content, which affects the price he receives from Amalgamated.
Sugar beets are threatened in the Valley and across the U.S. A glut of sugar from Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere flooded the market and drove down prices for domestic growers. Idaho sugar beet cash receipts fell 37 percent during the past two harvests despite strong yields.
The fate of the domestic sugar industry might lie with a lawsuit filed by U.S. sugar processors — including Amalgamated — with the International Trade Commission charging that Mexico producers have strategically sold for