MOORHEAD, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Co. share prices have reached near-record highs when it comes to the price per planted acre. Today’s price is about the same as the price of farmland on which the beets are grown.

The price is likely on the minds of growers who will make history by meeting virtually this year because of COVID-19 — at their factory district meetings, lender meetings and even the company’s annual meeting, according to company officials.

The share selling “season” typically starts in the early fall and goes through March or April. Shares offer rights and obligations to market beets through the closed cooperative.

This year, FNC Ag Stock LLC of Grand Forks on Aug. 28 handled the first sale of the season — a record with 25 shares at $3,950 per share. The brokerage had 50 shares listed for sale at $3,900 per share, and 100 shares listed for $4,100. Individuals willing to purchase shares were offering up to $3,750 for 50 shares.

Jayson Menke, broker for Acres & Shares, a brokerage in Grand Forks, said that to date there have been four brokered sales of shares.

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“Brokered sales are off a strong start, based off of a near-perfect harvest, a higher sugar content and optimism about sugar prices,” he said.

Chris Griffin, president of Red River Land Co. of Grand Forks, said his first sale was Sept. 17 at $3,850 and the company's most recent was $3,900.

This compares to a previous record-high in October 2012 at $4,400 per share, but at that time farmers were allowed to plant more acres per share.

“On a planted acre basis, we’re near a record, if not at a record,” Griffin said.

Since shareholders today are allowed to grow only 74-79% of their shares, that translates into an effective price of $5,064 per planted acre. The price hit a record of $4,400 per acre in October 2012, which would have been an effective price of $4,944 per planted acre.

Andy Gudajtes, of FNC Ag Stock said Red River Valley farmland runs about $2,500 to $5,000, with the highest prices in land where non-irrigated potatoes are grown.

“It shows there is optimism in the sugar beet industry,” he said.

The co-op has 500,000 shares outstanding. According to American Crystal records, shareholders harvested an average of 426,000 acres of beets in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 crop years. To compare, they harvested 398,000 acres in 2017, 385,000 in 2018, and expect to harvest 405,000 acres in 2020.

The strong sale price probably has to do with strong sugar beet per ton payment expectations and a good harvest, Griffin said.

“There’s some variability due to the rain, but overall, a strong crop,” he said.

Other encouraging issues are favorable trade policies in the past few years. It’s too early to predict the volume of shares changing hands, Griffin said.