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Published May 10, 2011, 10:48 AM

Co-ops wrap ’10 crop, Crystal boosts ’11 acres

FARGO, N.D. — Sugar beet processing is coming to a happy conclusion for the 2010 crop, but a wet, cold spring has influenced American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., to increase acres for 2011.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Sugar beet processing is coming to a happy conclusion for the 2010 crop, but a wet, cold spring has influenced American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., to increase acres for 2011. Here is a wrap-up of processing and planting progress for companies in the region:

- American Crystal Sugar Co. — Dan Bernhardson, agricultural manager for the company, says a cold, slow start for planting is increasing American Crystal Sugar Co.’s beet acres in 2011. May 4, the company decided to increase its planted acres to 90 percent of preferred shares, up from the previous 85 percent planting level in 2010.

That means the company will plant 448,000 acres.

“We will continue to monitor the progress,” Bernhardson says. “There’s rain in the forecast, but not big chances. We’ll evaluate the planting each week.”

So far, Crystal had 2,700 acres planted, considerably below normal, but not unprecedented.

In 2009, the company only had 1,500 acres planted as of May 3, which also was a slow start. That year, yields were 22.3 tons per acre.

“The date of planting has a significant impact on the final yield,” he says.

Meanwhile, processing is continuing until mid- May at the company’s Drayton, N.D., factory, but was winding down elsewhere. Hillsboro, N.D., was the first to wrap up April 28, followed by Moorhead, May 2; East Grand Forks, Minn., May 4. Crookston, Minn., was set to end May 5. Bernhardson described it as a “timely end,” and that beets that had gone into storage piles had stored well. No beets were discarded this year. Final processing numbers won’t be available until after Drayton is finished.

More conventional beets?

Bernhardson expects that there may be more conventional beets planted by shareholders this year, despite the go-ahead for Roundup Ready beets. About 8 percent of the 2010 beets were conventional, mostly because the particular varieties had more resistance to a disease that was a problem in the East Grand Forks and Crookston factory districts. He says a distributor, for now, is storing some of the chemical that had been acquired in case the company decided to plant conventional beets only.

“We don’t know what we’re going to have to store,” Bernhardson says, noting the chemical will be available to growers.”

- Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, Wahpeton, N.D. — Processing of the 2010 crop was scheduled to be complete May 12 or 13, says Tom Knudsen, vice president for agriculture. Processing schedule has largely been “on target,” he says, despite some hiccups in the “middle innings.”

The projected completion date works fine for Minn-Dak, with its ventilation system. The company has gone to May 24 successfully, but processing too late in the spring can make the factory maintenance campaign more difficult.

Minn-Dak farmers only had about 7,000 acres planted as of May 4.

“It’s a flip from last year,” he says, noting the company by that date had 100,000 acres planted and only 15,000 acres to go. He says the cold is still preventing fields from drying out.

“If we’d get some warmer weather, people’s attitudes would improve,” he says.

Forecasts remain in the 60s during the day and in the 40s at night with a chance of rain through May 9.

- Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, Renville, Minn. — Todd Geselius, vice president for agriculture, says his company ended its 2010 crop beet slice season April 16, which is pretty normal. He says the company sliced just short of 2.9 million tons, which is as many as they’ve ever sliced. There were no processing issues, which is a credit to the maintenance staff after a 2009 crop slice that was heavier than normal with mud.

Geselius says the co-op has planted about 20,000 of the expected 117,000 acres, and the planting tolerances have not yet been adjusted. The first to go in this year were in the third week of April.

“It’s been slow in the field, cold and wet,” he says. “We’re not as far along as we’d like to be.”

The co-op decided in late March that they’d plant Roundup Ready beets. The company acquired some chemicals that can be used on conventional beets and will keep them in storage as “insurance” until the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes up with a require Environmental Impact Statement.

- Sidney Sugars, Inc., Sidney, Mont. — Processing ended Feb. 22, which is about normal for the area, as beets are not reliably frozen for longer storage and processing. Steve Sing, plant manager, says the plant had some trouble with storage, but it wasn’t too bad.

“We just had a lot of snow come in the fall, and a lot of trouble getting the piles to breathe well,” he says. The plant also had an electrical transformer fail on Jan. 5, shutting the plant down for about five days.

The 2011 crop is expected to be about 31,700 acres, up from last year’s 31,150 acres. The decision to allow planting of Roundup Ready beets was “real big,” for the plant.

“We wouldn’t have reached those acres without it,” he says.

The first of this year’s beets were planted on April 25, which compares with April 17 the year before. This year some 6,662 acres were planted May 4.