Sugar beet farmers told MTN News Tuesday that they wanted to keep the soon-to-be-shuttered Sidney Sugars processing plant open, but they were not offered enough for their crops.
The farmers were responding to a statement from plant owner American Crystal Sugar Co. that farmers provided an insufficient supply of sugar beets.
"That the Sidney Sugars, Inc. plant is closing due to insufficient grower interest is very misleading," said Jeff Bieber, Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association president.
Bieber says farmers have been receiving less for their crops, dropping $9 a ton since the company purchased the Sidney plant in 2002.
"The grower group did everything they could to avoid this," Bieber said. "It wasn't because of a lack of interest in the grower group."
Bieber says negotiations led to late planting dates three of the last six years and says the association's 75 farmers chose to plant other crops because sugar beets are too much of a risk.
Those challenges are echoed by sugar beet producers elsewhere in the state.
"We need a consistent supply of sugar beets," said Brett Nedens, Western Sugar Cooperative board member. "So that's one thing as a shareholder, you have the right and the responsibility."
Nedens farms in Hardin and says despite those challenges, the sugar industry is still strong and the Sidney closure won't have a big impact nationally.
"It's a big blow to Sidney," said Bieber. "It's still heartbreaking to see the loss of any industry really."
American Crystal Sugar Company declined comment Tuesday. In a Monday news release, the company said the number of acres farmed has dropped significantly, forcing it to close the plant and lay off its 300 employees. The closure will start in April.