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Published August 22, 2011, 05:00 AM

Crystal pre-pile still a question

MOORHEAD, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Co. will pull beet samples to help decide when the so-called “pre-pile” harvest schedule might begin, allowing factories to start running. Full-scale, round-the-clock harvest typically starts later, usually around Oct. 1.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

MOORHEAD, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Co. will pull beet samples to help decide when the so-called “pre-pile” harvest schedule might begin, allowing factories to start running. Full-scale, round-the-clock harvest typically starts later, usually around Oct. 1.

The board’s regular meeting is scheduled Aug. 24, and the crop size and the pre-pile schedule may be set, says Dan Bernhardson, Crystal’s agricultural director. The co-op management informed shareholders Aug. 5 that there would be no starting before Aug. 30. Normally, they’d start lifting early in the week and start factories two days later.

Bernhardson notes that 2010 was the earliest the company had started pre-pile harvest on — Aug. 17 — the earliest in recent decades, based on results from higher-yielding new varieties.

“There have been years we didn’t have a pre-harvest, per se,” Bernhardson says. “One year, we opened fields four days before Oct. 1” full-scale harvest.

Late planting, smaller crop

Bernhardson acknowledges the company has a smaller crop than expected. The biggest factor in the smaller-than-desired crop is the May 19 average planting date. In 2010, the average planting date was April 22.

“You have almost a full month of growing that we didn’t take advantage of because the crop wasn’t planted,” he says.

Crystal growers this year planted genetically modified Roundup Ready sugar beets under increased monitoring protocols to prevent seed production.

Environmental groups had successfully sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for improperly approving the Roundup Ready beet production, saying the agency should have conducted an Environmental Impact Statement before making the decision. The courts allowed the plantings to go forward in 2011 under strict supervision of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This involved extensive monitoring.

Bernhardson says that the company’s shareholders, as expected and predicted, since mid-July have indeed found some “bolters” and have removed and destroyed them.

Bolters are sugar beet plants that — if left to grow — potentially would contain seeds that could produce another beet plant in a future year. Beets are “biennial,” meaning seed is produced in the second year of production. Typically, this is commercially done largely in Oregon and Washington, states where beets for seed are planted in August or September, and then go through a dormant, or vernalization phase.

Red River Valley beets planted annually for root processing typically don’t produce seed. But the courts required APHIS to step up vigilance to prevent accidental seed production, at least until the genetic modification becomes unregulated.

Bernhardson says he doesn’t know how many of Crystal’s 750 “grower units,” or farms, had found a bolter.

“If they would find one or 50 bolters in a field they’d have to report it to us, and we would have to report it to the USDA,” he says.

“My biggest concern is that they are removed and destroyed,” Bernhardson says.

Inspections are required every three or four weeks. In addition, APHIS-trained inspection teams have been conducting inspections of field and “everything that has come back so far has been that they have been in compliance,” he says.

Bernhardson says temperatures at planting season have the biggest effect on whether bolting is induced.

“If you have a variety that’s likelier to bolt and if you had more temperatures at that freezing level (after emergence), it would contribute to bolting,” he says.

European beet growers, who plant in March and April, typically have more concerns with the issue than Red River Valley growers, he says, but they grow non-GMO beets.

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