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Red River Valley sugar beet harvest winds down

FARGO, N.D. -- The 2015 sugar beet harvest is winding down in the Red River Valley and will be one of the largest yields on record. Officials at the region's two farmer-owned cooperatives say 95 percent of the harvest was complete by Oct. 13, and...

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A few unharvested sugar beets remain in test plots south of the American Crystal Sugar Co. factory in Moorhead, Minn., on Oct. 13. The company says about 95 percent of its beets are harvested in the valley and the rest will likely be done by Oct. 18, bringing to a close a record-yielding crop at an estimated 27.7 tons per acre. (Mikkel Pates/Agweek)

FARGO, N.D. - The 2015 sugar beet harvest is winding down in the Red River Valley and will be one of the largest yields on record.

Officials at the region's two farmer-owned cooperatives say 95 percent of the harvest was complete by Oct. 13, and the rest likely will be done before the end of the week - Thursday to Sunday, depending on location.

Brian Ingulsrud, vice president for agriculture at American Crystal Sugar Co. in Moorhead, Minn., says his co-op is about 95 percent done with beet lifting and might finish Oct. 18.

Crystal's beet yield is estimated at 27.7 tons per acre, which is greater than the record yield of 27.1 tons in the 2012 crop. This year's crop is based on 397,500 acres, although the final acreage won't be known until the end. So far, the crop has a healthy 17.8 percent sugar content, which is "almost exactly what we're targeting for the year," Ingulsrud says.

About 170 farmers were still hauling on Oct. 13. The Crookston, Minn., factory district was nearly finished at 99 percent, while Drayton had the furthest to go, at 92 percent complete.

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TAP not used The American Crystal board of directors decided on Oct. 6 that shareholders could harvest 100 percent of their acres, meaning the first-ever Targeted Acres Program would not be implemented. The TAP program allowed shareholders to bid for payment levels they'd accept for acres they would deliberately leave unharvested in the case the crop size got too large for timely processing. The co-op wants to be able to complete processing by mid- to late-May, to avoid pile spoilage and costs of discarding beets.

TAP was designed to allow the bulk of non-TAP participants to harvest all of their beets and not worry about leaving a 10 percent unharvested area in limbo.

About 150 shareholders won the bids for TAP. TAP contracts prevented enrollees from collecting any further crop insurance payments on those acres, Ingulsrud says. The TAP program would have been activated if the co-op expected a total crop of 11.5 million tons, or a 29-tons-per-acre yield.

Ingulsrud says there were some unneeded rains in the northern Red River Valley, but the harvest season will be one of the faster, more pleasant ones in memory.

He says the 97-degree temperature on Oct. 11 wasn't welcomed, but says most of the harvest occurred between freezing and 65 degrees, which is just right. He says the harvest has gone well because of the "terrific work of our shareholders and the harvest crews."

One of the best Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D., says he expects harvest to be completed by about Oct. 15.

"It's one of the best," he says.

The 2014 harvest was also fast, but there were fewer tons. The harvest was shut down from Oct. 10 to the evening of Oct. 12 because of the record-high temperatures.

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This year, yield will average 26.5 tons at Minn-Dak, and sugar content will be nearly 18 percent, Knudsen says.

The harvest was marred by accidents between trucks hauling sugar beets and other motorists, including two fatalities where a vehicle crossed a center line and collided head-on with a beet truck. Ingulsrud notes that, in that case, the beet truck driver was doing "exactly what they were supposed to" do.

This year's crop was harvested largely without mud, which can make sharing the road difficult.  

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