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Jeanne Rupard of Dilworth, Minn., works year-round in food service for a retirement home in Moorhead, but annually takes 10 days to a month to run a beet-topping machine for an American Crystal sugar beet grower south of Moorhead, Minn. Photo taken south of Moorhead, Minn., on Oct. 1, 2018. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

RRV beet harvest starts strong

MOORHEAD, Minn. — This year's strong harvest conditions and relative profitability compared to other crops have kept beet share prices strong in the northern Red River Valley.

Things were going full steam Oct. 1, the first full-scale harvest day. Jeanne Rupard of Dilworth, Minn., has spent time in the fall helping with sugar beet harvest for 13 years. Rupard is driving a beet topper for Martin Farms Inc., south of Moorhead. The company is headed by Kevin Martin and grows beets for American Crystal Sugar Co. Rupard's husband, Jerry Rupard, has been working in the harvest for 30 years.

Jeanne's year-round work is in food service. "I take vacation from my real job at Eventide and I do this for a hobby," she said.

The Martin farm started harvesting on Friday, Sept. 29, so the staff at the piler could get acquainted with the process. Oct. 1 is traditionally the first day of full-bore harvesting for the entire cooperative.

Yields appeared to be good. The beets were large enough that the topping machine that Jeanne drives to take off the tops of beets just prior to the "lifting" or digging, had grown a bit higher than desired above the soil surface. "This topper won't raise up high enough and takes some tops off that it shouldn't," she said.

Photo taken south of Moorhead, Minn., on Sept. 1, 2018. In the past two years, the weather has been dry and and somewhat cooperative so the harvest was able to be completed in about 10 days. It had been so dry recently that the rains received in the area recently were beneficial, she thought.

"I've done it some years where we're still trying to slug through the mud on Halloween and that's not good."

Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture for American Crystal, said the company's official projection is 30.7 tons per acre, but the margin of error is about 4 tons per acre.

"Really nice weather to be harvesting, with cool temperatures," he said. Rain predicted for the Red River Valley on Oct. 3 had the potential to shut things down. Quality is looking to be above average, indicative of a drier than average summer.

Strong share price

While farmers in general have seen commodity prices plummet for soybeans and other crops, in part because of tariff and trade wars with China and others, sugar beet prices are somewhat protected by federal policies that limit production and imports.

American Crystal of Moorhead is a farmer-owned cooperative in which members purchase shares, which offer the right and obligation to deliver beets. Shares typically are bought and sold from harvest until spring.

Photo taken south of Moorhead, Minn., on Sept. 1, 2018. Jayson Menke is an ag stock specialist at FNC Ag Stock LLC, in Grand Forks, N.D., a subsidiary of Farmers National Company, that helps facilitate sales American Crystal stock.

Menke said the shares this year are selling for about 28 percent higher in September versus a year ago. On Sept. 25, a 35-acre share of beet stock was sold for $3,500 per acre, and then on Sept. 27, another 17 shares sold for $3,600.

To compare, the first sale of the season last year was Sept. 13, 2017, for $2,725.The last sale of last season was in mid-March at $3,100 per share. FNC Ag Stock was involved in transfers of 2,000 shares with an average price of $2,943 per share on the year, which is about average for recent years, Menke said.

Financial stability of sellers this year is the "wild card," Menke said. "If there's growers who are in a tough financial position and they're forced to sell, it could have a weakening impact on the market," he said.