FISHER, Minn. - If ever there was a sugar beet harvest emergency, 2019 must be it.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service on Oct. 28 said beet harvest in North Dakota had reached only 53% harvested, well behind the 97% five-year average. Minnesota's beet harvest was 60% complete, compared to 95% - about 17 days behind the five-year average.

On Oct. 28, American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., overall had reached 60% harvested, with factory district percentages (north to south) at 71% for Drayton, N.D.; 46%, East Grand Forks, Minn.; 42% Crookston, Minn.; 46%, Hillsboro, N.D.; and 70% at Moorhead. Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., was about two-thirds harvested as of Oct. 28. Information from Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative at Renville was not immediately available.

Row crop combines have had track-type wheels for years, but not sugar beet harvesters.

Until now.

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Amity Technology Inc. of Fargo, in an emergency effort to help customers with this year's unprecedented conditions, scrambled to come up with some track-typed traction for its big 12-row harvesters that had always come with tire wheels.

Marketing manager Ben Sander helped to stage a field demonstration and testing event at the at R&K Farms at Fisher on Oct. 25.

Tim Kozel at Valley Plains Equipment, the John Deere dealer at nearby Crookston, Minn., that carries Amity products, contacted R&K to see if they wanted to take it for a test spin. Ross Korynta, 34, the fourth generation of R&K Farms, was driving the harvester for the demo. He works with his father, Randy, and uncle Justin Ross. The families were only about 35% through harvesting their 920 acres of beets as of Oct. 25.

On 15 to 20 acres, Ross said he "would have been stuck about three or four times" without the tracks.

"It worked wonders," he said, but declined to say whether his farm would be owning one soon.

Another first

Amity Technology is the North American leader in pull-type sugar beet harvesting equipment.

Based in Fargo, the company was established in 1996 by Howard and Brian Dahl. The Dahl family is famous for developing the Bobcat skid-steer loaders, Steiger four-wheel-drive tractors and Concord air-seeding drills.

Sander said the company started seeing a need for the harvester tracks in late September but had been talking about it for years.

"The constant rain and being dumped on with snow, and then it cooled down so there's not a lot of chance for it to get dried off at all," Sander said. "We're always trying to adapt and find a way to harvest our sugar beet better, and to help our customers."

Amity produces six-, eight- and 12-row harvesters, as well as beet carts and defoliators that are meant for difficult harvest conditions.

The 12-row, Model 2700 harvesters are a hefty 36,000 pounds - 18 tons - with a hopper capacity of 4.5 tons. Plenty of weight, and almost double the "scrub," the mechanism that takes the beets.

Amity acquired some tracks to put on their machines from a friendly source - AGCO-Amity JV-LLC. The joint venture's Wil-Rich brand uses track mechanism for its 10K Folding Tool Bar and similar strip-till bar. The tracks are made by Camso.

Engineers started design work just before the blizzard hit Oct. 10. The "whole team" went into action on the project, making sure the solution would have the strength and clearances required. "Sheer assembling, and welding and all of that took quite a bit of manpower and some late-night hours," Sander said. "We had to replace our entire axle, so we completely redid our axle system to allow for that."

By Oct. 21, the company had its first axle welded and ready to go on a production model. They got the tracks on the axle and extended the "jump chain" - the chain that feeds beets into the scrub elevator.

Six kits in 2019

There are six full kits ready, and one axle kit without the tracks, meaning the customer could fit their own set of tracks onto the machine.

"It's what we have available," Sander said.

Interested farmers can talk to any one of about 20 local Amity dealers in the Red River Valley, Sander said. The product may be offered as a factory-installed option on the Model 2700 harvesters as soon next year. In addition to dealing with excessive wet conditions, the tracks also have general benefits for reducing compaction and stabilizing of the harvesting machine in general.

The pricing includes one Amity employee to instruct on how to install, and it takes a dealer or farmer about a day to do it. It wasn't clear how many were being sold.

A conventional, 12-row machine with regular wheels lists at about $200,000. The "list" price for the full track and axle kit system is $82,500, but pricing may differ among retailers. The axle alone is $16,500.

Pricing includes one Amity employee to instruct on how to install, and it takes a dealer or farmer about a day to do it, Sander said. (Kozel, at Crookston, estimated the installation cost would be about $2,000, assuming the Amity employee was involved.)

Mark Trostad, a product specialist for Amity, helping with the demo at Fisher, said price is a consideration, but "when your whole crop is sitting in the field, whatever we can do to make an attempt to get it, maybe is a good tradeoff."

"I think the biggest thing for our customers right now is, can they get their trucks through the field? Can they get their defoliators through the field? Their beet carts? Time isn't really on our side right now," Trostad says. "We're losing days."

Ross acknowledged the cost might be worth it to avoid leaving beets in a field, but the value would be apparent with repeated use. In a more "normal" year, it would probably reduce compaction, which has a value.

Ross noted that none of his farm has subsurface drainage wiith corrugated plastic pipe, often called "tiling." There are some spots the farm has considered tiling on, especially to counter drainage issues on headlands, or field ends. "That's also another cost," he said, smiling without amusement.