Sidney Sugars shutdown: what led to the plant’s decline?

Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 5:47 PM CST
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SIDNEY, M.T. (KUMV) - The Sidney Sugars plant in northeast Montana is closing later this year. The company says interest in growing beets there is waning, but farmers argue there is more to the story.

For nearly a century, sugar beets have been the lifeblood of Sidney and Richland County. That lifestyle took a hit this week when it was announced that Sidney Sugars would be closing this April. This was devastating news for Houston Scarborough, who has hauled sugar beets and helped many farmers around the region.

“I’ve got a lot of friends right now that are unemployed and don’t know what they are going to do. My neighbor has been a sugar beet farmer his entire life. His dad has grown sugar beets his entire life, and his grandfather grew sugar beets his entire life. Now they don’t even have a factory to haul that into. That’s almost a 100-year-long legacy that just disappears,” said Scarborough.

The closing also has severe consequences for the city of Sidney.

“It’s going to be a direct hit. There ain’t no question about that,” said Rick Norby, Sidney mayor.

For those outside of Richland County, this announcement came as a surprise, but for locals, the writing has been on the wall for years. Jeff Bieber, president of the Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association, said negotiations with Sidney Sugars’ parent company have resulted in a lower profit margin for farmers.

“The growers have had tens of millions of dollars taken from their beet payments in these contract negotiations,” said Bieber.

Sidney Sugars Chief Operating Officer Steven Rosenau said that the closing is because farmers aren’t growing enough beets, but Scarborough disagrees.

“They have pushed us out. They just put hundreds of people and their families out on their rear ends so that they can turn a bigger paycheck at the end of the year,” said Scarborough.

Beet growers around Richland County are currently contracted for about $50 per ton.

Tough decisions lie ahead for the community. For producers, equipment made specifically for sugar beets will have to be sold or modified. For the plant workers, if they want to continue in the industry, their only choice will be to move elsewhere.

Your News Leader reached out to Sidney Sugars for further comment, but have not yet heard back.

Sidney Sugars would have celebrated 100 years of service in 2025.