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Published October 19, 2010, 08:30 AM

2010 beet harvest not so scary as some expected

WALCOTT, N.D. — Tyler Anderson’s description of his 2010 sugar beet harvest is summed up in two words — “a treat” — a sweet treat.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

WALCOTT, N.D. — Tyler Anderson’s description of his 2010 sugar beet harvest is summed up in two words — “a treat” — a sweet treat.

Anderson farms with his father, Steve Anderson, and an uncle, Keith Anderson. They raise beets both for American Crystal Sugar Co., a farmer-owned cooperative based in Moorhead, Minn., and Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D. As of Oct. 13, the Andersons were down to the last 75 acres of beets out of the 550 acres they had to harvest this year.

“It’s really going good,” Anderson says.

If this pace kept up, Anderson thought the family could be done lifting beets by Oct. 15. That puts the full-scale harvest at about two weeks, which he says is about as smoothly as it can ever runs. He says he’s grateful for weather that’s been wonderful for October, with harvest slowed only by the heat shutdowns.

“Usually you have something — rain, freezing or heat,” he says.

The beets he was harvesting were Crystal shares, probably averaging at about 23 tons per acre, although he emphasizes there were some that were drowned out because of heavy rains through the summer and into September. There was some disease, he says, and about 90 acres were lost to root rots.

The Andersons also raise soybeans and corn. When the beet harvest was shut down, the family was able to shift to bean harvest, and they completed that Oct. 12. He hasn’t yet measured the bean yields, but guesses it would average in the mid- to upper-30-bushel range.

“Decent beans for this area,” he says.

They have a lot of corn to harvest, but he says he thinks there’s at least “a chance” to get it off by mid-November for a change.

“That would be a lot of fun,” he says, noting that some farmers in the area already have been harvesting corn at 20 percent moisture or less.

He says he’s heard of diesel fuel shortages in the media, but hasn’t experienced any problems with his local supplier.

“Things can change fast, but the forecast is pretty good,” Anderson says. “A month ago, you sure never would have expected to sail through harvest like we have been able to at this point anyway. The last couple of seasons have been pretty difficult.”

Here are some status reports for the region’s co-ops, as of Oct. 13:

n AMERICAN CRYSTAL SUGAR CO.: Harvest resumed at 8 p.m. Oct. 12 after an extended weekend shutdown because of warm temperatures. Dan Bernhardson, director of agriculture, says the co-op was at about 64 percent harvested as harvest fired back up, which is far better than the past two years. He says that there have been at least partial shutdown days because of temperatures on seven out of the 13 days of the month.

“Considering the amount of hours we’ve operated, we’re well above average” for the harvest pace, he says, attributing some of that pace to the piler crews.

Tare percentages that had started out at 4 percent when full-scale harvest started Oct. 1 have now gone to 2.3 percent, which is very good, he says. Yields in the later fields have been averaging 27 tons per acre. The previous seasonal average is 25.4 tons per acre two years ago and two years before that.

Sugar content has climbed steadily, and late fields are averaging 18.31 percent, he says.

“It would have been nice if the whole crop could have been at that,” he says.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to have these dry conditions in October, when a lot of our area received 5 to 7 inches of rain in September,” he says. “I think the potential was there for a repeat of last year” when harvest bogged down in rain and mud.

Bernhardson acknowledges that the company is concerned about the storability of the piles, considering recent temperatures in the 85-degree range.

“We have seen an increase in the temperature of the piles that are out there,” he says. “It’s something we’re keeping a close eye on. It’s a concern that we do need some cooler temperatures.”

He says the company is continuing with storage techniques they’ve worked on the past several years and aren’t changing anything. He says beet piles in Reynolds, N.D., and elsewhere are in the 32-foot-high range.

“With the assets we’ve put in place in the last few years, the majority of the piles are at the height we want them,” he says.

n MINN-DAK FARMERS COOPERATIVE: This year’s harvest is turning out far better than shareholders may have expected, says Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture for Minn-Dak.

“It’s dry, no mud,” Knudsen says, of the general conditions throughout the Minn-Dak region in the southern Red River Valley.

Minn-Dak’s dirt tares are running about 2 percent, which is practically nothing.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever seen that,” he says.

Harvest was running about 60 percent complete.

n SIDNEY SUGARS INC. — Sidney (Mont.) Sugars Inc., a subsidiary of American Crystal, also was running at 60 percent harvested Oct. 13, according to Steve Sing, plant manager. Harvest of the company’s 31,150 acres of beets started Sept. 28, and — like the Red River Valley — often has been shutting down for half days because of the heat. Oct. 12 was the company’s first day of running full, regular hours, Sing says.

“We’d been shutting down at noon, starting at midnight,” he says.

Daily highs had been running in the 70s and occasionally in the 85-degree range. Only one day had been shut down because of rain.

Yields are running pretty close to company estimates at 28.25 tons per acre. The company also is at about average sugar content, with the season average at 17.45 percent, a little below expected. The later days had been averaging 17.75 percent sugar.

As with the valley, tare rates are down to less than 2.5 percent, which he says can be a problem because there is less of a “cushion” in the processing, but it’s better to have less than too much. He says he hasn’t seen anything to cause the company concerns about storage, as they’ve taken care to make sure the company shuts down when beets are at 55 degrees or more.

n SOUTHERN MINNESOTA BEET SUGAR COOPERATIVE: The Renville, Minn.-based co-op was about 55 to 60 percent complete with harvest as of Oct. 14, says Todd Geselius. He is in his first year back with the co-op, this time as director of agriculture.

“We’re right at 115,000 acres this year, pretty similar to what we’ve been doing, with about 500 growers,” Geselius says.

Pre-pile started early this year on Aug. 23, and brought in about 18 percent of the acres. Typically, the pre-pile brings 15 to 20 percent. Full-scale harvest started Oct. 1 and has been fighting heat, just as the Red River Valley has. The co-op resumed harvest Oct. 13 after a four-day shutdown, with temperatures in the high 80s.

Geselius says the month of September had brought 3 to 4 inches of rain in the last week, which interrupted pre-pile harvest. But when full-scale harvest started, things had dried sufficiently, except for a western area in Minnesota’s Granite Falls and Clara City areas. Farmers were worried about a repeat of 2009, when the last loads came in about Dec. 1.

Geselius says that if there is clear sailing, the co-op can bring in about 8 percent of the crop in a day. He says the forecast looked good, with nighttime temperatures expected low enough to cool things down.

“If we can get another seven or eight days in, we’re not going to have many beets out there,” he says.

Southern Minnesota Beet’s yield projection is 28.5 tons per acre, which, if realized, would be a record only by a small amount compared with the 2009 record yield of 28.2 tons. Tares are down and sugar content is projected at about 16.25 percent. Latest sugar content has bumped up to 17 percent, he says.