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American Crystal Sugar harvest survives growing season challenges to yield better than expected

Preliminary estimates of average tons per acre in 2022 is 26.4, said Steve Rosenau, American Crystal Sugar Co. vice president of agriculture.

 A sugarbeet lifter drives down a field.
American Crystal Sugar Co. produced a record crop of 12.1 million tons in 2022. Photo taken Oct. 14, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek
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American Crystal Sugar Co. produced a record 12.1 million tons of sugarbeets in 2022 during a near-record harvest season that wrapped up in less than three weeks.

The company’s farmers finished harvesting this year’s crop on Oct. 23, 18 days after it began. In 2020, American Crystal Sugar completed the harvest, which began Sept. 30 and ended Oct. 16, in 17 days, which was the fastest in at least 25 years. The next swiftest harvest was in 2015, when it was completed on Oct. 21.

About 150,000 tons of sugarbeets were damaged by frost when temperatures dipped into the single digits during the third week in October. Those sugarbeets will be processed first.

Overall, the 2022 harvest — which was shut down for a few days early in the season because of heat and then later because of cold temperatures — went well as dry field conditions were beneficial for digging and hauling sugarbeets, said Steve Rosenau, American Crystal Sugar vice president of agriculture.

“The last two years have gone relatively smoothly,” Rosenau said. “Last year, we were delayed a little longer by heat,” he said. In 2021, American Crystal Sugar wrapped up in early November.

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American Crystal Sugar’s previous record production of 12.002 million tons was set in 2017. In 2021 farmers who grow sugar beets for the Moorhead, Minnesota-based company, produced 11.8 million tons of the crop. Yields that year averaged 28.7 tons per acre.

A white sugarbeet truck hauls the crop from the field.
American Crystal Sugar Co. produced a record 12.1 million ton crop in 2022. Photo taken Oct. 14, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Preliminary estimates of average tons per acre this year is 26.4, Rosenau said.

About 2,200 farmers grow sugarbeets for American Crystal Sugar, which has factories in the Minnesota cities of Moorhead, Crookston and East Grand Forks and in Hillsboro, North Dakota and Drayton, North Dakota.

The company increased acreage by about this spring by about 55,000 to a total of 456,000 because of the cold, wet weather that delayed the start of planting by about three weeks to May 20. All of the acres were harvested.

Although average per acre yields were lower than last year, 2022 sugar content of 18.5% averaged higher, Rosenau said.

“Sugar content was excellent. Because of the dry season, we had days that we were receiving over 19% sugar,” he said. Last year, sugar content averaged 17.9% American Crystal Sugar strives to have sugar content that averages 18%.

Sugarbeetlifter.JPG
American Crystal Sugar Co. finished the 2022 harvest on Oct. 23, 2022. Photo taken Oct. 14, 2022.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

“Typically, when we don’t have moisture, sugar contents will be higher,” Rosenau said.

This year, sugarbeets grown by farmers in the Moorhead factory district had the highest sugar content. However, sugarbeet production was lower in the factory district this year than normal because it didn’t get the rains that fell further north.

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Meanwhile, some of this year’s highest yields were in the Drayton factory district because it received timely rains, Rosenau said. Sugar content, which typically is the highest in the Drayton district, was lower this year.

In the end, the 2022 crop, which was challenged by late planting and dry conditions, is better than expected.

“The crop is so resilient,” Rosenau said. “To have the yield we had — 26.4 tons per acre is unimaginable.

Related Topics: SUGARBEETSAGRICULTURE
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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