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Sidney sugar beet farmers make a pivot after decades of farming



Sidney, Montana – One Sidney family has been farming and selling sugar beets for generations, but they just had to make the difficult decision to discontinue the family tradition.

Don Streisbesser recalled his lineage and said that his “grandpa moved up here from Colorado in the 30s and Holly Sugar brought him up here to raise beets and we’ve been in the sugar beet business since he came up here.”

Don went on to say that his family has been, “very involved in the sugar beet industry, my dad was past president of the growers association. I’m a past president of the growers association and we’ve been involved locally and nationally in sugar beets so it was an important part of our farm for a lot of years.”

“Until last year.” Don added.

Farmers in Richland County recently discovered that they could make equivalent money growing crops like corn rather than sugar beets.

Which are labor-intensive and time-sensitive crops.

Don says that in the past years farmers, “didn’t grow, because we weren’t paid to grow, when you can make more money raising corn then you can sugar beets with 2/3 less cost in doing it and a whole less work in management it doesn’t pay to raise. If you make $150 an acre raising sugar beets and $150 an acre raising corn and you can actually take your kids fishing in the summer tie, corns going to win out.”

But maize isn’t the only thing the Streisbessers are growing right now.

Don’s brother Jim says that the family is “expanding our cattle enterprise, were feeding more cattle, we’re raising more corn so were putting a lot of that corn through cattle so were finishing more till they are ready for harvest and running more cows so we have that luxury, not all beet farmers in the area even have but we do cattle are a substantial part of our operation, always have been so it might be a little easier for us.”

And the Streisbessers are guiding the transition away from sugar beets while also expanding possibilities for their fellow farmers.

Jim looks to the future in Sidney and had this to say, “the farmers that where strictly sugar beets, then a rotational crop they’ve got some big changes there a lot of them that have never raised corn so they are asking some questions and how best to do that. So they’ve got substantial changes to make. Nd there’s other crops to raise other than corn as well, there’s companies tied to other commodity crops that are talking to farms in this area They would you consider raising beans, or peas or even more exotic crops than that.”

Jim adds that “there’s gonna be a lot of learning to do”

As the community shifts away from sugar beets, they are hopeful about the new changes the transition may bring to the east, and even the globe beyond Sidney Montana.

Don said , “since Covid has been a big part of our lives the American consumer has really increased their desire for knowing where their food comes from that has always been an issue increasingly so, but when Covid, when shore shelves got empty that really opened the minds of the American consumer including the Montana consumer, so with that has been a strong desire for processing cattle, locally, and we do have a processer in Sidney that has the capacity to do 150 a head a day and we could see some major expansion for in cattle feeding in Montana and that would give the consumers more availability for Montana beef and we would welcome it.”

According to the Steinbeissers, while sugar beets may no longer be grown on their farm, the transition may bring new prospects for the family and the community.

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