MOORHEAD, Minn. - American Crystal Sugar Co. announced to shareholders this week that the company will increase its April estimate of the payment for 2018 crop beets to $51 per ton from the initial projection of $48 per ton.

Tom Astrup, the company's president and chief executive officer of the Moorhead-based cooperative, was in Grand Forks, N.D., at factory district meetings on April 2, was not immediately available to elaborate. Growers said they received news of the 6 percent price improvement in a recent letter.

Co-op officials historically have increased price projection improvements this time of year based on the quality of the beets that went into storage as well as cold, favorable storage and processing conditions.

The stabilized sugar market and prolonged relatively poor prices for corn, soybeans and competing crops have helped boost stock share prices for the beet cooperative. Shareholders have the right and obligation to grow and deliver beets that are processed through the co-op's five factories. Typically, brokered sales occur from harvest through spring.

Jayson Menke, a broker for Acres & Shares LLC in Grand Forks, one of the three brokerage firms that handle Crystal shares, said that as of Monday, April 1, 3,808 shares had been brokered for an average price of $3,357.01 during the 2018/2019 trading season, so far.

That level compares to the previous 2017/2018 season in which 4,659 shares were brokered at an average of $2,940.23 per share, Menke says. He used publicly available data from his company and two others-FNC Ag Stock LLC and Red River Land Co. All are in Grand Forks.

"I'd say the prices were very strong throughout the year," added Nick Watson, an ag stock specialist with FNC Ag Stock. "There was a day in early January where it got down to $3,150 for a day. The range hit $3,600 both at the end of September and the beginning of March, it hit that price again."

Menke and Watson said sales are winding down as planting approaches.

Barring an unforeseen market crash late this spring, Menke said this will only be the second season that shares have been brokered at more than $3,000 a share for an entire season. Menke, who has been in the brokerage business 16 years, started his new company in late 2018.

"This is an impressive statistic given the state of the rest of the farm economy," Menke said. The best trading seasons occurred when agriculture was financially clicking on all cylinders, Menke said.

This season is on-track as the third-highest average share price since beets started trading through brokerage firms in 1994.

The 2011/2012 share marketing season was the last time average brokered sales topped the $3,000 level. That year, 2,016 shares were brokered in the $3,500 to $4,000 range with an average price of $3,777.82.

In the 2012/2013 season, 3,121 shares traded at an average of $3,941.32 per share. That season started at $4,200 per share, peaked at $4,450 per share in the fall, but dropped off to $2,500.