GRAND FORKS — Farmers who grow sugar beets for American Crystal Sugar Co. will begin their 2021 pre-pile harvest on Tuesday, Aug. 24.

During the pre-pile, farmers typically harvest about 15% of their crop and deliver it to their factory districts. American Crystal Sugar Co. has factories in the Minnesota cities of Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston and the North Dakota cities of Hillsboro and East Grand Forks.

Farmers who deliver their sugar beets to certain piling sites in the factory districts will begin harvest at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24. Farmers who deliver to other sites will begin delivering per American Crystal Sugar Co.'s schedule.

About 2,800 farmers who live in the Red River Valley and just beyond its border grow sugar beets for the company. Farmers planted 411,000 acres of sugar beets for the cooperative this spring.

Sugar beet planting, which began in April this year, wrapped up by early May as dry conditions allowed growers to make swift progress. However, dry conditions during the planting season caused emergence issues, and a drought during the growing season resulted in yields that likely will be lower than American Crystal Sugar Co.’s historical average.

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Sugar beet yields this year are estimated at 25.5 tons per acre, and American Crystal Sugar pegs total production at about 10.5 million tons, said Steve Rosenau, American Crystal Sugar director of agriculture. Yields in 2020 averaged slightly more than 25 tons per acre, and total production was 10.1 million tons.

The historical average is about 29 tons per acre, Rosenau said. American Crystal Co.’s historical total production average is about 11.5 million tons.

This year, sugar beet yields, similar to the yields of other crops, will vary depending on where the rains fell. In the southern Red River Valley, where more rain fell, yields are higher, Rosenau said.

''As you go north to Drayton they decline,” he said.

Meanwhile, about 2,200 acres of sugar beets in a band from Buxton, North Dakota, to Climax, Minnesota were hit by a July 19 hailstorm. The hail damage, however, was not as severe as it would have been if it had been later in the growing season.

The upside of the dry growing conditions in 2021 is that disease pressure was lower, the sugar beets have the desired uniform root shape and sugar content, so far, is higher than the historical average of 17.9%, Rosenau said.

On the flip side, rains during the past week have been beneficial for dampening the hard-packed ground, which will result in there being fewer large lumps of dirt during harvest.

American Crystal Sugar Co.’s fall harvest is expected to begin Oct. 1.

Last year, the company’s harvest lasted only 17 days, beginning on Sept. 30 and concluding on Oct. 16. The harvest, which was the quickest wrap-up in 25 years, had no rain delays, in contrast to 2019 when it was hampered by excessively wet conditions.

In 2019, rain and snow delayed harvest, then an early November freeze destroyed sugar beets. Farmers left about 3.5 million tons of sugar beets unharvested. Abandoned acreage totaled about 115,000 or about 30% of the 390,000 acres they planted in 2019.