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Published October 07, 2009, 08:39 AM

Heavy rains hurting sugar beet harvest

Despite weather, outlook better than last year’s
Seven good days. That’s what Amenia farmer Bill Hejl needs to finish this year’s sugar beet harvest.

By: Jon Knutson, The Forum

AMENIA, N.D. – Seven good days.

That’s what Amenia farmer Bill Hejl needs to finish this year’s sugar beet harvest.

“We just need some dry weather,” said Hejl, who had to shut down his sugar beet harvest after receiving about 3½ inches of rain in the past week.

He’s not alone.

Most sugar beet producers in the southern two-thirds of the Red River Valley have quit harvesting temporarily because of recent rains.

They likely won’t go again for another week or so, given current forecasts.

“It’ll probably be a week, depending on the weather,” Paul Coppin, general manager of Reynolds United Co-op, said of the resumption of sugar beet harvest in his area.

The northern Red River Valley – or the area north of U.S. Highway 2 – has had less rain, and many farmers there are able to keep going, said Dan Berhardson, director of agriculture for Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co.

“We’re still going,” said Kelly Erickson, who raises sugar beets in Hallock in extreme northwestern Minnesota.

“It’s a challenge to get the beets. But the good news is, we’re still going,” he said.

Most of the sugar beets in Minnesota and North Dakota are grown in the Red River Valley by shareholder/members of American Crystal and Wahpeton-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative.

The two co-ops have a major impact on the region’s economy.

In fiscal year 2008, American Crystal had net revenue of $1.223 billion, and Minn-Dak had $243 million in net revenue.

Though recent rains hurt, the situation isn’t desperate yet for sugar beet growers, provided the weather turns dry quickly.

About a quarter of the area’s beet crop already has been harvested.

Twenty-four percent of North Dakota’s sugar beets were lifted, or removed from the ground, as of Sunday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That compared with an average of 30 percent in 2004-08.

In Minnesota, 23 percent of beets were harvested as of Sunday, down from the 2004-08 average, the USDA said.

Crop conditions in both states generally are good.

In Minnesota, 70 percent of sugar beets are rated good or excellent, with 27 percent fair and 3 percent poor or very poor, the USDA said.

In North Dakota, 66 percent of beets are good or excellent, with 26 percent rated fair and 8 percent poor or very poor, the USDA said.

But recent rains stir memories of a year ago, when heavy, persistent October rains hammered sugar beet fields, particularly in the southern Red River Valley.

Minn-Dak growers were forced to leave sugar beets valued at $36 million in their fields.

It’s far too soon to say things will be that bad again, said Chris Devries, Minn-Dak communications manager.

Dry weather is what sugar beets fields need now, said Claude Richard, a Fargo producer.

“No more rain this fall and then some snow for Christmas. That would be great,” he said.

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