Southern Minnesota farmers expect strong pre-pile harvest

Jeff Agre, of Sacred Heart, Minnesota, a shareholder in Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, is optimistic as he heads toward pre-pile beet harvest Sept. 6, 2021. All three co-ops in the region — American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minnesota, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative of Renville, Minnesota, and Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, North Dakota, now under way with their pre-pile harvests that started about Aug. 25, 2021, sometimes delayed due to rains.

Sugar beets in the Sacred Heart, Minnesota, area in late August had somehow “reached down and grabbed” some subsoil moisture, says Jeff Agre, a shareholder of Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative at Renville, Minnesota. Photo taken Aug. 24, 2021, at Sacred Heart, Minnesota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
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SACRED HEART, Minnesota — Jeff Agre is hoping to get a sugar beet yield of more than 30 tons per acre this year.

Agre, 49, and his son, Mitchell “Mitch” Agre, 30, operate Agre Farms just north of Sacred Heart, Minnesota, one of over 500 shareholders of Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative of Renville, Minnesota. The co-op was starting their “pre-pile” sugar beet harvest the week of Aug. 25, 2021, but rains were adjusting the schedule.

The Agres were scheduled to start Aug. 30, 2021. They harvest with Jeff's brother-in-law, Mike Anderson and Mike’s brother, Steve, in A Plus Farms of Belview, Minnesota. The harvest group handles about 650 acres of beets, Jeff said. Individually, his farm accounts for about 115 acres.

SMBSC’s pre-pile plans were adjusted because of a 2-inch rain. Agre said moisture was welcomed for loosening soil, adding tons and generally benefiting late-season crops.


Harvest activity is revving up at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co., based at Renville, Minn. It produces about 3 million tons of sugarbeets every year, and is one of the reasons the Minnesota-North Dakota region is the largest beet region in the United States. Photo taken Aug. 24, 2021, at Renville, Minnesota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Farther north, in the Red River Valley, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative at Wahpeton, North Dakota, and American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minnesota, also got going. All three co-ops were looking at an expected Oct. 1, 2021, full-scale harvest, when producers lift beets around the clock.

SMBSC officials weren’t immediately available to comment on the status or progress of the pre-pile harvest.

Beets since ‘99

The Agres produce field corn, sugarbeets, sometimes wheat, and peas and sweetcorn vegetable crops for the freezing and canning markets, if contracts are available. (Contracts weren’t available to them this year.) In 2012, Mitch graduated from North Dakota State University in Fargo, and returned to the farm, adding a Golden Harvest seed dealership to the farmstead.

Jeff Agre, a farmer from Sacred Heart, Minnesota,is one of about 500 shareholders of Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, based at Renville, Minnesota. He was starting pre-pile beet harvest at the end of August 2021, and hoping for a strong harvest that he expects to go more than 30 tons per acre and even approach last year’s 36-ton average. Photo taken Aug. 24, 2021, at Sacred Heart, Minnesota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

It was 1999 when the Agres bought shares in Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. SMBSC was formed in 1974. Jeff said he’s happy to be a part of SMBSC, because beets usually produce a solid profit.

This year’s beets were a bit hard to establish on dry hilltops, Jeff said.


“The seed laid in dry dirt, but we did get a few tenths of rain to germinate them. Once they got started, they continued on. Them taproots went down after the moisture, and got it. It looks good,” he said.

Their soil is a heavy, black clay-based soil and the beets roots can penetrate up to 8 feet or more, he said.

The Agres have encountered a bit of Cercospora leaf spot disease coming, but not bad. The Agres sprayed fungicide five times. They weren’t among those who tried new Cercospora-resistant varieties .

Prepile harvesters “lift” or harvest beets from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said.

“We’re allowed to lift 3 to 4 tons per share, is generally the rule of thumb,” he said. Harvest is always a challenge.

A nephew works with the Agre operation, and various cousins show up.

Full-scale coming

The Agre group harvests in a “couple different go-rounds” in pre-pile. Each typically takes about three days.

Last year the Agres had a strong production year, with yields in about the 36-ton per acre area, with good sugar, Jeff said. Even with dry conditions, he still predicts a good crop.


“I don’t think we’re going to be far off from last year’s,” he said.

He noted that the prior five to seven years were excessively wet.

“We were pushing and pulling (harvest) rigs in and out,” he said. The Agres often don’t start corn harvest until after the beets are finished.

“When you have everything going at once, for help, labor reasons, that’s the trying time,” he said. “It’s always a weight off your shoulders when sugarbeets are done. It seems like you’re on Easy Street after that. You don’t have to worry about frost issues, heat issues” with corn.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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