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Published September 07, 2010, 09:55 AM

Pre-pile beet yields indicate huge crop

FARGO, N.D. — Sugar beet cooperatives in the Red River Valley are posting phenomenal yields in the pre-pile harvest, making it likely that shareholders will not be allowed to harvest all of their acres.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Sugar beet cooperatives in the Red River Valley are posting phenomenal yields in the pre-pile harvest, making it likely that shareholders will not be allowed to harvest all of their acres.

American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., already is seeing pre-pile yields averaging 20 tons per acre. Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., is running in the “mid-20s,” which both sound more like yields for mature beets in October.

Crystal has 500,000 shares of stock, but shareholders were allowed a “tolerance” of planting acres totaling 80 to 85 percent of their preferred shares of stock. A total of 420,000 acres were planted.

Jeff Schweitzer, Crystal spokesman, says that even with the pre-pile harvest starting at a record early date on Aug. 17, Crystal growers were advised in early August that they initially are allowed to harvest up to 70 percent of preferred shares. Growers who planted a higher percent at the start would have more acres to cut back, proportionately.

The board of directors will make a decision on whether those set-aside acres can be harvested after the full stockpile harvest is under way, Schweitzer says. That harvest traditionally starts Oct. 1, but it sometimes is moved up a day or two. When full harvest is 50 percent complete, the board starts evaluating whether “at risk” acres will be harvested.

Pre-pile harvest typically runs four weeks and brings in 10 percent of the total crop. This year’s pre-pile will run six weeks and will bring in about 15 percent of the crop.

“Quite honestly, it’s not a position the company likes to put the shareholders in, and it’s not a position the shareholders like to be in,” Schweitzer says.

The decision to leave some beets in the field is a way to right-size the harvest with the processing capacity of the company’s five factories.

Projected numbers

Crystal’s projected yield is in the “upper 20s” for tonnage. The previous record was 25.5 tons per acre in 2007. The 2009 yield was about 23.5 tons per acre. The current payment estimate for the 2009 crop is $50 a ton. If realized, this would be the third time in four years the payment has hit that level. In 2008, the payment was $47 per ton.

Even the pre-pile harvest numbers are impressive. Yields already are averaging 20 tons, ranging from 12 to 25 tons per acre.

Meanwhile, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative’s pre-pile harvest also started Aug. 17. In the first couple of weeks, the co-op harvest was bedeviled by high temperatures. Now, the harvest has been stopped by “our old friend enemy — rain,” says Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture.

Minn-Dak planted 114,600 acres this year, about the same as last year, Knudsen says.

The “latest, greatest” yield estimate for the 2010 crop, announced internally on Aug. 19, was for a total crop of 28.8 tons per acre, which would be a record. Even in the pre-pile harvest, there are hints of just how huge the crop is.

“Yieldwise, we’re all over the board,” Knudsen says, of the pre-pile crop, but he estimates results already are in the “mid-20s” in tons per acre, which is more often a figure for a final yield.

“Those are numbers we’ve never seen on Sept. 1 and prior,” Knudsen says.

Sugar content so far has been in the 11 to 12 percent range, which is “not catastrophic,” considering the time of year, Knudsen says. Sugar content levels increase in September, especially with warm, sunny days and cool nights.

He says that while Minn-Dak had a weather-reduced crop in 2009, co-op officials last November started warning producers that acreage cutbacks might be necessary because of yield results in other co-ops from here to Michigan.

As an example, a grower with 100 shares had been allowed to plant 160 acres, but now have been told they’d only be able to harvest 140 of those acres. The co-op will be spot checking with GPS for compliance. Most of those beets would be plowed down.

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