The 2009 Lethbridge Herald-Taber Times High Tonnage Grower winner has had a lifelong relationship with the sugar beet industry. Joe Veres and his wife Mary sold their half section of land a few years ago, but retained their homestead that is a summer floral masterpiece, upgraded the farm home for eventual retirement, and to keep active in agriculture, maintained a 67-acre sugar beet production contract with Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Marketing Board.
Working in a partnership with two larger beet growers, it was decided last fall that Veres’ beets would be harvested first. The three partners finished his beet harvest October 2, and then headed for the next field. A killing frost hit southern Alberta October 8, and the partners ended up leaving about a third of their beets in the ground.
Veres feels the weather-ravaged sugar beet season takes some of the shine off the competition. “Some of the best growers couldn’t capitalize,” he said
Vere’s crop yielded 28.47 tonnes an acre. The average yield for 2009 was 22.75 tonnes. With normal weather conditions, many growers likely would have had significantly higher yields, said Veres. “The average crop yield could have been two to three tonnes higher.”
Veres’ first association with southern Alberta sugar beets was as a three-year-old child sitting on the side of a field while his immigrant parents hoed crops for many growers to control weeds and thin the beet stand. His parents arrived in southern Alberta in 1948 from Hungary with three children, and sugar beet field work was a major part of their workload. In 1957, his father bought a quarter section of irrigated land eight kilometres east of Taber along the Red Road, and sugar beets became a staple crop.
Joe has been growing beets for 40 years, and could be one of the last growers who harvested sugar beets by hand. Mary said it was a major challenge, and proved to her it was a great way to judge the character of a person. “If you want to know what a man is like, don’t sleep with him, dig beets with him,” she said.