After the wet fall of 2019, planting the 2020 sugarbeet crop also had its challenges due to the saturated soil conditions, particularly in the middle of the Red River Valley. Cool temperatures in April through early May assisted in the delay of planting. Since planting was behind schedule, American Crystal Sugar on May 7 authorized 15,000 additional acreage to be planted via the Spring TAP program in order to overcome potential loss in tonnage to be harvested. With that increase, 409,000 acres were authorized to plant in 2020 and they were 98% planted by May 28. The weighted average planting date for 2020 was May 13, which was later than the 10-year average of May 5.

In mid-May, the weather made a 180-degree swing and became very warm for the remainder of the growing season. Overall stand establishment was adequate. Extreme rain events occurred in the northern Red River Valley starting in June and additional extreme events came in July affecting those areas again as well as into the mid-Red River Valley. Even with these rain events and later than optimal planting, Growing Degree Days accumulation was intense in pushing the crop and making up for lost time.

Root disease in areas with saturated soils was noted but most instances became inactive as a drier weather pattern occurred starting in August. Waterhemp is the most troublesome weed and it has pushed its way to the northern end of the valley with all growers needing to consider pre-emerge/pre-plant incorporated herbicide applications as well as in-season lay-by herbicide applications for control. Sugarbeet Root Maggot (SBRM) pressure continues to expand, primarily in the East Grand Forks and Crookston districts. Starting at the end of June, there was an intense early buildup of moderate-to-severe Cercospora Daily Infection Values (DIVs) due to very warm summer temperatures and high humidity levels. High DIVs occurred throughout the growing season making Cercospora Leaf Spot (CLS) control very difficult with some fields severely impacted by the disease at levels not seen in over 20 years. Severe infections could be found in all areas of the Red River Valley from south to north. It was noted that a timely, almost considered early, start to fungicide applications provided a control benefit by not allowing Cercospora to get established as well as maintaining proper spray intervals, and tank-mixing/rotating fungicide modes of action. Cercospora varietal tolerance differences were observed with just a 0.5 difference in ratings making a difference in Cercospora incidence. Even when everything was done as well as could be, Cercospora control was less than ideal in some fields.

Conditions favorable for Cercospora development are also good for sugarbeet growth, with the warm summer hastening sugarbeet development. Sugar content initially was lower than average in sample pulls but started to catch up nicely a few weeks prior to stockpile due to below-normal precipitation in August and September.

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Prepile harvest started Aug. 18 and was a wonderful run with no weather interruptions and the factories came out of the gate very nicely to start their processing campaign. Due to good harvest temperatures forecasted, stockpile harvest started Sept. 30 at 12:01 am. Stockpile harvest turned out to be one of the fastest ever in history, without any rain events to impede it as well as only limited shutdowns from warm temperatures. On Oct. 9 harvest was 97% complete and the last beets were piled on Oct. 16 to wrap up the harvest.

Rainfall much below normal in August and September impacted yield negatively but had a positive effect on sugar content. A total of just over 10 million tons were received, averaging 24.8 tons/acre, 18.36% sugar, 0.99% sugar loss to molasses equating to 8,606 pounds of recoverable sugar/acre.

The company feels fortunate that harvest conditions were so good after the conditions experienced last year. With a favorable fall to prepare next year’s beet fields, we look forward to what 2021 will bring.

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