Sugarbeet harvest opens main phase

Published online: Oct 07, 2013

American Crystal Sugar Co. began its full-bore beet harvest in the first minute of Oct. 2, a day later than usual because Oct. 1 was too warm.

"What we like to do is have root temperatures of 55 degrees or less," says company spokesman Jeff Schweitzer from the company's Moorhead, Minn., headquarters. "Anything above that tends to deteriorate in the piles and take other good, healthy beets with it."

The lower temperatures that were expected through the weekend, with highs falling to below 50 degrees and lows approaching freezing and up to an inch of rain, aren't expected to slow the harvest down much, he says.

Although the temperature got up to about 62 on Oct. 3, it was forecast fall to about 35 at nights through the weekend and rain showers were expected to total up to 1 inch across much of the region Oct. 5 and 6. Higher temperatures should move back beginning Oct. 7, when the high is expected to reach 65 again, according to the National Weather Service.

In the first eight hours of stockpile harvest Oct. 3-when all growers can lift beets every day or night, depending on the co-op's rotating schedule-a total of 274,000 tons of beets were hauled to the three dozen satellite piling stations and its five factories in the Red River Valley.

Good crop
The prepile part of the harvest that ran through September, in which each grower digs about a 10th of the crop on a slow schedule to get the factories primed and running, took in about 1 million tons of beets to the factories, Schweitzer says.

During the stockpiling phase, if things go right, 10 percent of the crop can get lifted and hauled in 24 hours to stand in giant mounds through the winter as the sugar is processed from the beets.

"As we look at the crop, we are estimating a yield of 23 to 24 tons per acre," Schweitzer says.

That's in line with what average yields were until a few years ago when they ramped up, including last year's harvest that averaged 27.1 tons per acre.

Still, the 435,000 acres of beets expected to be harvested this month look pretty good and are expected to produce 10.4 million tons of beets, Schweitzer says.

"We would consider that a very good crop," he says of projected yields. "Last spring was very wet and very cold and that delayed planting of this 2013 crop a whole month behind the 2012 crop."

But late-season warmth and rains helped the beets catch up to offer respectable potential, he says, thanks to improving farm practices and seed quality.

But weather still can cause problems.

Last year's early planted crop took a long time to get dug in the fall.

"We had a very extended harvest in 2012 and that crop was one that was extremely difficult to get out of the ground. We actually were harvesting beets in late November," Schweitzer says. "So we are hoping history does not repeat itself."