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Published August 29, 2011, 05:30 AM

Crystal to start pre-piling Sept. 6

MOORHEAD, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Co. has announced to shareholders that they’ll start pre-pile harvest on Sept. 6 with beet slicing, or processing starting in all of its five factories. In the southern Red River Valley, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D., will start harvest Sept. 21-22, and will start slicing at its single factory Sept. 23.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

MOORHEAD, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Co. has announced to shareholders that they’ll start pre-pile harvest on Sept. 6 with beet slicing, or processing starting in all of its five factories. In the southern Red River Valley, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D., will start harvest Sept. 21-22, and will start slicing at its single factory Sept. 23.

Dan Bernhardson, Crystal’s director of agriculture, says the later-than-normal start is because of lower yield projections. The current projection ranges from 20 tons to 22 tons per acre, which would be the lowest in the past five years. The lowest during that period was 22.3 tons in 2009, and the five-year average is 24.5 tons per acre.

“Twenty-two tons would be respectable, considering how late the crop was planted, but when you look at the last five years, 20 would be a poor crop,” Bernhardson says.

There is no projection for the value of the crop. That won’t happen until after harvest, and the selling season is completed, Bernhardson says. Then, the value of the crop also will be based on sugar content, which varies.

The long-term sugar selling price is about 24 to 25 cents per pound, and the price recently has been above that.

“As the price goes up, the sugar content is worth more,” he says.

Bernhardson earlier had said recent crop sampling data likely would be a topic for the Aug. 24 regular board of directors’ meeting that reportedly was scheduled in Grand Forks, starting in the morning. The so-called full-scale, 24-hour harvest will start about Oct. 1.

It is unclear whether Crystal’s labor issues would be a part of the board meeting. The board has a subcommittee that is regularly briefed in detail on the labor impasse, which has resulted in a lock-out of 1,300 union workers. It isn’t clear a later processing start will play any part in the settlement of the dispute.

Crystal President David Berg is holding regularly-scheduled “shop” meetings in the Red River Valley the week of Aug. 29, sources say. Those meetings are informal conversations and different than factory district meetings in the fall, when the harvest is complete and more detailed financial projections are available.

Minn-Dak start

Meanwhile, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative will start processing Sept. 23 and pre-pile beet lifting about two days before.

Dave Roche, president and chief executive officer, says that’s more than a month later than last-year’s pre-pile harvest, which started Aug. 17 because of a large crop. With this year’s smaller crop, the company is giving the beets a chance to grow through the month.

Hampered by serious flooding and early-season cool weather, Minn-Dak’s beets are expected to yield only 17.7 tons per acre, which Roche says is “misleading” because there “a fair amount of beets out there that will have yield potential of near-zero to nil.”

He says the co-op is projecting a total crop of some 2.1 million tons, which is substantially less than the 3.1 million ton crop last year. He says that volume of beets could allow the company’s factory to complete processing by late March or early April.

Here are some of the other harvest reports:

- Sidney (Mont.) Sugars Inc. starts its harvest Sept. 30 and will start its factory Oct. 1, says Steve Sing, general manager. The company since 2003 has been a subsidiary of American Crystal Sugar Co.

The Sept. 30 start date is about normal at Sidney. With the 30,000-acre crop this year, the plant is expected to be done slicing by the end of January.

Yield projections are down a little because of the wet in the spring and then flooding in the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. There were about 1,860 acres not planted and then another 1,800 acres or so that were drowned.

“That’s been tough,” Sing says. “Other than that, the crop’s been doing pretty good lately.”

The company is a part of American Crystal and its workers are in the same Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union as Crystal’s other workers in their five factories, but their contract is separate. Their contract runs through April 2012, Sing says. Also, Sidney Sugars’ grower contract is a three-year contract and runs through the 2012 crop, although growers have a choice every year of signing it.

Terry Cayko, a Fairview, Mont., farmer on the board of the Montana Dakota Sugarbeet Growers Association, says the crop had been about three weeks behind in development, but has gained ground and is now about a week behind normal. He says he doubts the crop will reach last year’s 27-ton average. Some beets south of Sidney were hurt by hail.

- Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative of Renville, Minn., plans to start pre-pile harvest the week of Sept. 19, hoping to let the beets get some extra time to grow, says Todd Geselius, vice president of agriculture. Geselius says the co-op projects a 20-ton per acre yield. The crop was set back by late planting and rains that continued through mid-July.

“Since then, it’s started to dry up and it’s really helped our crop,” he says.

Conditions early in the season led to some root rot, but the company expects to harvest 119,000 of the 120,000 or so acres they planted. One Southern Minnesota Beet farmer says the crop in the Renville area is a “hit and miss” affair that will be far less than last year’s yields which were 30 tons or better in some fields.

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