Beet piles in RRV survive early warm weather

GEORGETOWN, N.D. -- Despite a December warm-up and out-of-season high temperatures in mid-March, the region's sugar beet piles remain in surprisingly good shape, officials say.

Beet pile
Frozen sugar beet piles stand at American Crystal Sugar Co.'s piling station near Felton, Minn., on March 16, 2015. Photo taken March 16, 2015, Felton, Minn.

GEORGETOWN, N.D. -- Despite a December warm-up and out-of-season high temperatures in mid-March, the region's sugar beet piles remain in surprisingly good shape, officials say.

Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture at American Crystal Sugar Co. in Moorhead, Minn., says the temperatures in early March, 41 degrees above normal so far, had only a minor effect on storage losses.

"They're hanging in there, doing just fine," Ingulsrud said March 16. The company hasn't seen any big change in the quality of beets delivered to the factory.

American Crystal has about 1.5 million tons of beets yet to be sliced, about 14 percent of the crop that was brought in last fall. That pace is ahead of normal for this time of year.

"You don't wish for a small crop, but the fact that we did have a small crop is probably a fortunate situation, considering the storage situation," Ingulsrud says.


The company deep-freezes about a third of its crop, which means piles are ventilated and the company uses extra-cold outside air, when it's available.

Dan Gowan, American Crystal's director of agriculture, adds that beet piles were initially affected by low temperatures on Nov. 11, 2014. In December, it warmed up and rained. The freeze-thaw cycle creates some deteriorated beets on the outside surface of the piles. These "rim" beets are typically 6 inches deep, up to 12 to 18 in some places. Much of that damage occurred in November and December.

"Those (previously damaged) beets are the ones most affected by these latest warm temperatures," Ingulsrud says. "Not a lot of extra damage is being done now."

Similarly, Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., says the higher temperatures are not a positive, but his company has not seen excessive losses.

Knudsen says the co-op harvests and piles about 2.4 million tons of beets. About 55 percent of Minn-Dak's beets are protected with deep-freeze technology, including 225,000 tons in sheds and under insulation blankets to keep them in the best shape through the end of processing.

Others are done

Meanwhile, other sugar companies in the region have ended their slice campaigns.

Sidney Sugars Inc., of Sidney, Mont., finished its campaign on Feb. 18. Russ Fullmer, an agronomist for the wholly owned subsidiary of American Crystal, says that factory had to discard 3,000 tons out of a total crop of about 890,000 tons.


"It's more than I'd like to throw out," Fullmer says, but notes it is not a big amount and was less than others he'd heard of.

J. Kent Wimmer, director of shareholder relations and governmental affairs at Western Sugar Cooperative in Denver, Colo., says his company has just finished.

"We had a difficult year this year, but we are complete with our campaign slicing operations," Wimmer says.

He says his growers experienced a warm harvest, an extreme cool-down in November, followed by a warm-up in December, and two freeze cycles through late December and January.

"We had a difficult storage," he says. "We had an excellent crop, just couldn't take it (all of it) all the way through."

Officials at Southern Minnesota beet sugar cooperative didn't immediately respond to an Agweek interview request. One Southern Minnesota Beet grower contacted by Agweek says the processing season for a below-normal 2014 crop had ended in Renville, Minn., and there were not excessive beet storage losses.

As the companies approach the end of the slice campaign, farmers are also thinking about planting, Knudsen says. Typically, farmers want to start planting beets around April 20 to comply with the crop insurance deadlines and to avoid frost damage for seedlings.

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