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Cory Skauge, an agriculturist with American Crystal Sugar Co.'s Moorhead, Minn., factory district, pulls a beet growing near the Glyndon, Minn., piling station. The co-op is scheduled to start pre-pile harvest on Aug. 15, which allows the company to start its factories prior to long-term winter stockpiling. Full-scale harvest starts Oct. 1. Photo taken near Glyndon, Minn. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Crystal ready for Aug.15 pre-pile harvest

GLYNDON, Minn. — The Red River Valley and the region are seeing signs of another above-normal sugar beet yield, and the companies are getting ready for it.

American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., expects to start pre-pile harvest on Aug. 15, while Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative will delay pre-pile harvest until Sept. 15 following two stinging years of overproduction.

Cory Skauge is an agriculturist with Crystal's Moorhead factory district. He holds an agricultural economics degree from North Dakota State University and grew up about five miles south of the Glyndon, Minn., piling station.

"That's where I got my passion for what I do," Skauge says. "Pretty lucky."

He works with field consultation earlier in the summer, then harvest and storage supervision in the fall.

As harvest approaches, Skauge will be among those collecting a series of five root samplings to determine the crop harvest conditions while he readies equipment for the harvest and storage "campaign."

Skauge is responsible for three of the Moorhead district's nine piling stations. His are at Glyndon, Minn., Sabin, Minn., and the Moorhead factory yard. Part of his staff for the piling stations starts on Aug. 7, and another group starts Aug. 14. He supervises about 105 seasonal workers at the three locations.

A technical expert, Skauge says he's anxious for the new season, to see the fruits of investments in things like "scoop doors" on the piling station apparatus. It's another retrofit for piling machines that were originally in service in the 1950s or even the 1940s.

"These scoop doors are going to be a huge plus for safety and efficiencies," he says. The doors are provided with a sensor that allows the driver to stop, dump and move, eliminating a lot of backing up and repositioning.

Company stats

Here are individual company projections:

* American Crystal Sugar Co., Moorhead, Minn. — Pre-pile harvest is expected to start Aug. 15, with full-scale harvest Oct. 1. Planting date, stand, canopy closure dates and other factors will affect the projected yield, which hadn't yet been set as of Aug. 2. Shareholders planted 398,000 acres, which is about the same as 2016.

Last year the crop was green well into season. This year, dry conditions have influenced an early yellowing of beets and early sugar content tests indicate higher-than usual sugar content. "I would like to see everything there real lush and green right now," Skauge says. "Rain would take care of a lot of the yellowing we're seeing, short- and long-term." The area received nearly the two inches he wished for on Aug. 2-3.

* Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, Wahpeton, N.D. — The co-op will start harvesting its 95,000 acres in mid-September, with no other pre-pile harvest. Full-scale harvest will start "sometime in October, when the temperatures drop," says Kurt Wickstrom, president and chief executive officer. They anticipate harvesting 2.7 to 2.9 million tons of beets.

"It looks now that we're estimating 27 to 28 tons per acre," Wickstrom says, noting the company will do more yield testing and taking their first sugar content samples in the third week of August.

Minn-Dak cut acres this year after two years of producing more sugar beets than they could safely store. In 2016, the company was forced to leave 12 percent of their planted acres in the field. Still, they finished their slice campaign the latest ever — June 9, on the strength of a 32.5 ton per acre yield, with a disappointing 15.75 percent sugar content. "It would be nice to have 17- to 18-percent sugar content again and have them go into the piles cool," Wickstrom says. Fifteen of the company's 21 piles are ventilated for deep-freezing.

Growers have been doing an excellent job of controlling cercospora leaf spot disease, so that shouldn't have much of a yield impact, Wickstrom says.

* Sidney Sugars, Sidney, Mont. — Duane Peters, agricultural manager for Sidney Sugars in Sidney, Mont., says the wholly-owned subsidiary of American Crystal Sugar in early estimates could see a 31- to 32-ton per acre potential yield, which is higher than they expected after a dry spring and a lot of irrigation. The company will do their first pre-pile harvest since 2001. "We're going to start Sept. 14, and usually we start Oct. 1," Peters says. Growers planted 32,500 acres this year, slightly fewer than last year.

Usually about 80 percent of the beets germinate without irrigation, but this year about 80 percent needed some form of irrigation. Last year's sugar content averaged nearly 17.5 percent. A second root pull will indicate sugar content.

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