NEW LONDON, Minn.––At a glance, it appears that another gravel mining operation is under way in northern Kandiyohi County in Minnesota.
But the looming pyramids of sand along U.S. Highway 71 north of New London are simply a result of materials being in the way of a 30-acre sugarbeet receiving station currently under construction.
A large hill to be flattened and holes had to be dug for water retention ponds, resulting in the mounds of sand that will border the site owned by the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville. Sugarbeets will be unloaded there at harvest time and temporarily stored until hauled to the processing facility in Renville.
The sugarbeet harvest typically gets under way in September.
Plans are to get the kinks out of the new facility next month and be fully operational by the time harvest hits full stride.
“We’ve got a lot to do, but it’s progressing quite rapidly,” said Todd Geselius, vice president of agriculture at the cooperative. “We’re hopeful we’re going to be piling beets there in October.”
Geselius said the new station will provide temporary storage for 100,000 tons of sugarbeets raised on about 5,000 acres of farmland in the Belgrade, Brooten, Elrosa and Padua areas, easing the harvest-time transportation route of co-op members in its northern regions.
In the past, those farmers have trucked harvested beets to the receiving station near Raymond.
“That created quite a long haul and a burden for our growers up there,” said Geselius.
The co-op, which refers to the new facility as the “Belgrade station,” wants to “ease their harvest,” he said.
“It’s a huge job to move that many beets from that distance,” said Geselius, adding that the northern farmers typically hired extra drivers and trucks to haul beets during the hectic harvest season.
Having a receiving station closer to those fields is an attempt to “make things as fair and reasonably the same for all our growers,” he said.
Another benefit, he said, is increased safety on the roads.
Instead of a mad flurry of small trucks hauling beets out the field at harvest time, Geselius said professional “re-haulers” with large capacity loads will transport the sugar beets from the Belgrade station to the Renville processing facility all winter long.
This is the only new station the cooperative is constructing this year, but Geselius said they are evaluating additional sites for potential development in the future. It’s possible those piles of sand at the Belgrade station could be used as construction fill for future receiving stations elsewhere, he said. Otherwise, the material may be sold.
Building a new site requires local and state permits, including permission from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Army Corp of Engineers.
A layer of clay will seal the site to capture rainfall and send it to the holding ponds.
Water from the site will be collected in ponds and tested for possible release into either a drainage ditch or nearby wetlands.
“Part of the construction project is to make sure we can fulfill those obligations and manage water correctly on the site,” said Geselius.
This week crews from Duininck Inc. were laying down a 1,600-foot-long by 60-foot-wide asphalt pad where the mechanized unloader will travel as sugar beet piles are made.
A weigh station at the entrance of the site was also being built.
Earlier this year, turn lanes were constructed on Highway 71 where sugar beet trucks will be entering and exiting the facility.
Meanwhile, Geselius said root tests will be conducted this week to gauge the maturity of sugar beets in the area.
Many fields were planted later than usual because of the spring rains.
“It’s been a difficult time for our crops,” he said. “Our crop is a little bit behind from what we’d normally expect.”
But he said it’s too early to say if harvest will be delayed this year.