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Beet harvest winds down in North Dakota

FARGO, N.D. -- The sugar beet harvest campaign is largely finished in the Red River Valley, with American Crystal Sugar Co. shareholders setting records by more than 9 percent. The harvest is a bit harder to pin down in the southern valley, with ...

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Photo by Nick Nelson, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. - The sugar beet harvest campaign is largely finished in the Red River Valley, with American Crystal Sugar Co. shareholders setting records by more than 9 percent. The harvest is a bit harder to pin down in the southern valley, with Minn-Dak pondering whether to harvest its last 12 percent.

Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture for American Crystal Sugar Co. in Moorhead, Minn., says the 30.5-ton-per-acre yield beats the 2015 record high of 27.9 tons per acre. Harvest was 99.7 percent completed as of Oct. 26, with a few growers in the Crookston, Minn., and Hillsboro, N.D., factory districts still trying to finish.

The crop ranged from 33 to 34 tons per acre south of U.S. Highway 2 to 27 tons per acre in the northern areas.

Low on sugar

"There are a few growers in the very north end of the growing region, in the East Grand Forks (Minn.) and Drayton (N.D.) districts that have some very muddy fields," Ingulsrud says. "This last rain may prove too much to get those completed."

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Crystal has brought in about 11.7 million tons. The company typically attempts to size its crop to about 10.8 million tons, to keep it in line with its processing capacity in five factories. Piling stations in the southern end of the valley - particularly in the Hillsboro and Crookston factory districts - had no room to spare.

"I'll say, we'll be putting our factories to a test to slice beets at a very good pace to get through this crop," he says.

The company didn't leave any beets in the ground deliberately, but came "right up to the edge" of doing that. About 15,000 acres of beets had been abandoned earlier in the year because of disease issues, often relating to beets standing in water for too long.

Sugar content is about 17 percent, which is a bit lower than desired. "That's what happens when we get a lot of rain at the end of the season," Ingulsrud says. "The beets bulk up, but are also a little low on sugar."

The amount of tares - or extraneous dirt and mud brought in with the beets - was "relatively average," but was higher in the northern end of the valley.

Corral keepers

Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D., says a 1.5-inch rain in the region overnight on Oct. 25 stopped things for the time being.

Minn-Dak had 115,000 acres of beets to harvest this fall, but asked growers to hold back harvesting a total of 13,800 acres - about 12 percent in a so-called "corral," because of an anticipated record-high yield. The crop brought in so far is 3.25 million tons, up from the 3.1-million-ton record in 2010.

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The co-op is continuing to negotiate with other processors to see if a mutually-agreeable toll processing arrangement could be struck, Knudsen says. "We're not sure where we're going to end up," he says, noting this is adding to anxiety among growers.

Of the 101,200-acre difference that will definitely be harvested, 99 percent are complete.The yields on that amount are averaging 32.5 tons per acre - a record high by 5.5 tons per acre from the 27-ton level in 2014. Sugar content is running 15.75 percent, which is far lower than the 17.5 percent the company normally sees, Knudsen says.

Last year, the company had to destroy or give some beets away for cattle feed because the beets had gone into the piles dehydrated and weren't keeping well. This year's beets went into the piles nice and cool, with little mud.

But, "Going forward, there might be mud," Knudsen says.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTACROPS
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