Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative growers harvested a larger-than-expected crop of sugarbeets in 2021, thanks to late season rains and unseasonably warm temperatures.

As of early November, with about 95% of the Wahpeton, North Dakota-based cooperative’s sugarbeets dug, the average yield was slightly less than 30 tons per acre, said Mike Metzger, MinnDak Farmers Co-Op vice president of agriculture.

Total production is estimated at 3 million tons, an amount that the cooperative strives to achieve year in and year out, Metzger said.

The size of the 2021 crop was a pleasant surprise for Metzger.

Initially, in the spring, he believed there was potential for a 30-ton per acre crop because farmers were able to get in the field early to planting, and history showed that typically resulted in good yields.

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However, the growing season was dry, so the cooperative in mid-summer scaled back the estimates to about 24 tons per acre.

“We’re 6 tons to the acre over what we would have anticipated a couple of months ago,” Metzger said on Nov. 3. “This crop put on over one-third of its root mass during early harvest.

“We’ve never seen that.”

Because 2021 sugarbeet yields were so robust, the Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative board voted in late October to have farmers set aside 7% of their acreage with the understanding that percentage could change, depending on the yield of the crop that remained in the field as of the vote date. The mandated set-aside of 7% remained in place as of Nov. 3.

The 500 farmers who grow sugarbeets for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative planted a total of about 105,000 acres this spring.

While warm temperatures delayed the start of the stockpile harvest, freezing nighttime temperatures in early November had potential to cause frost damage to the 5% of sugarbeets that were still in the field. The frost-damaged sugarbeets couldn’t be stored long term, but if the sugarbeets were clean and didn’t have tops on them, they could be stored short term then processed, Metgzer said.

While the size of the 2021 crop created some unforeseen logistical challenges for the cooperative, Metzger was pleased it produced so well.

“What a wonderful surprise,” he said.

Besides being a large crop, the sugarbeets grown in 2021 had sugar content of 17.9%, which is an excellent amount, Metzger said.