POWELL (WNE) — In the aftermath of a frozen harvest that locked in the ground up to a third of the local sugar beet crop, there’s increasing hope for some federal disaster relief to beet growers through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Western Sugar Cooperative — and growers for other impacted sugar beet cooperatives in the Midwest— have qualified for assistance from the USDA through the Wildfire and Hurricane Disaster Indemnity Program (WHIP).

Specifics are yet to be worked out. Federal assistance could be a mixture of grants and low interest loans, said Heart Mountain grower Ric Rodriguez, vice chairman of the Western Sugar Cooperative board.

Meetings in Washington, D.C. between cooperative leaders and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency will occur soon.

In December, key provisions were added to WHIP through the appropriations process that will allow for losses to be calculated and payments to be made at the cooperative level. Amendments were signed into law by President Donald Trump on the Friday before Christmas.

The 2019 sugar beet harvest “will go down as one of the toughest that growers have been through in years,” Rodriguez said.

“Our cooperative was not alone in this disastrous harvest,” he added, pointing out that sugar beet cooperatives in North Dakota and Minnesota also left unharvested crops in the fields at a much higher percentage than the Western Sugar Cooperative.

In the four-state Western Sugar Cooperative, growers in Wyoming and Montana were shut down with the most beets still in the ground.

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