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Warm weather concern sugar co-ops

MILNOR, N.D. -- This year, Roger Gibbon's cattle are getting something new with their springtime feed fare -- beet chips.Since about Jan. 1, the cattle operation has been picking up sugar beet chips, available this year for hauling from Minn-Dak ...

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Anthony Schmidt talks about the sugar beet "chips" he's feeding beef cattle at the Gibbon Farm and Ranch of Milnor, N.D. The ranch is getting beet chips for the first time from Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D., about 40 miles to the east. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Cody Rogness)

MILNOR, N.D. - This year, Roger Gibbon’s cattle are getting something new with their springtime feed fare - beet chips.
Since about Jan. 1, the cattle operation has been picking up sugar beet chips, available this year for hauling from Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D. The chips are heat-damaged sugar beets, a byproduct of a difficult storage and processing year.
Anthony Schmidt helps manage the feedlot for Gibbon Farm and Ranch of Milnor, N.D. The farm custom-feeds cows, bred heifers and feedlot cattle, and maintains a custom chopping of hay and corn silage. The cattle operation maxes out at about 3,500 feedlot cows and calves, and about 40 to 50 percent of the feed typically comes from the farm itself.
“I think it’s a great interaction,” says Schmidt.
Normally, Gibbon Farm and Ranch feeds a grass hay and straw mix, which often includes ground corn stalks. Corn silage or beet pulp and tailings account for about 40 percent of the ration. They typically add 5 to 12 pounds per day of wet distillers grain, Schmidt says.
Beet tailings and chips mainly go to cows and bulls. A nutritionist has advised them to feed the chips at 12 to 20 pounds per day, at about 85 percent moisture. Feedlot and bred heifers for herd replacements usually get the beet pulp and some beet tailings, but no beet chips.
“Any time you can feed a byproduct that is waste to somebody else - at least you can run it through a cow and get some nutritional value out of it,” Schmidt says.
November ‘hail’
Fortunately for Schmidt and Gibbon, the warmer-than-average fall and winter have largely benefitted in the amount of beet chips they’re able to obtain.
Beets affected by heat provide good cattle nutrition, but are not efficient for making sugar. Most of the chips are used within a 30-mile radius, but some have been shipped 200 miles away. About 50,000 tons of beets have been handled in this way, so far.
Hot in here?
“If we could have just seasonable weather from here on, we should get through the (beet slice) campaign,” says Kurt Wickstrom, president and CEO of Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D. “We’re pretty happy with the way our covered, ventilated beets are storing.”
Minn-Dak always has beet pulp to sell as a feed byproduct. About 85 percent of its beet pulp is dried and pelletized through their Midwest Agri-Commodities marketing cooperative, based in California.
About 15 percent is sold fresh, locally. This year, they’ll provide about 100,000 tons of pressed pulp, 50,000 tons of tailings and about 50,000 tons of the more novel beet chips. Fresh pulp recently has been selling for about $25 per ton and the beet chips are free for the hauling.
As for moisture content, the raw beets contain about 75 percent moisture, tailings have 83 percent moisture and pressed pulp is 70 to 76 percent moisture.
Still, the warm weather has taken its toll. The co-op’s projected gross beet payment was at $43.50, but on March 18 was cut by about $2.50 per ton. The company is investing in more ventilated piles for beets grown in 2016. The co-op initially had difficulty making batches to the pure-white specifications required by customers, so some sugar was set aside to be brought back into the plant and remelted and processed for that purpose.
This year’s crop was 3.04 million tons. About 700,000 tons of fully frozen covered beets were still to be processed in mid-March. The slice rate has been down compared to past years, running 8,800 tons per day, which is the “name plate” for the factory, but less than the 9,500 tons per day targets the company typically hits. Another 120,000 tons were land-applied.
Minn-Dak expects to continue its “slice campaign” through May 20 to May 25. They also process stored beet juice into sugar through the end of July. The company also is in the first full year of making sugar from its new $70 million molasses desugarization plant, which was completed after two years of construction. The company’s long-term goal is to process sugar 11 months of the year.
Farther north, American Crystal Sugar of Moorhead had a season that looked good through November but storability declined when it got too warm and dry, just before harvest, says CEO David Berg.
“We’re trying to stay in front of the worst of it,” Berg says, adding the company had enough cold in January and February, before turning warm in March. Crystal projected a $45 per ton beet payment in November, but informed shareholders in January that the payment would decline by $1 a ton. Co-op grower meetings are held in April and changes are sometime announced prior to that. Crystal normally budgets for 25,000 tons of discards, but this year had discarded about 75,000 tons.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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