Beet harvest on the horizon

The annual American Crystal Sugar prepile harvest kicks off Thursday across the Red River Valley. The company expects to average around 28 tons per acre with nearly 400,000 acres of sugar beets planted.

Despite a later-than-average start to planting this spring, the annual American Crystal Sugar Co. prepile is set to kick off Thursday across the Red River Valley.

Brian Ingulsrud, the company’s vice president of agriculture, said sugar beet tonnage is expected to be down slightly from a year ago, when yields averaged around 30 tons per acre.

The sugar coop planted a little under 400,000 acres this year, up from 377,000 acres in 2018, following a late start to planting – which the company said will impact yields.

Ingulsrud said the company is looking at a crop that should come in around 28 tons per acre in 2019 for a total haul of more than 11 million tons. 

“Our average planting date ended up being May 10 this year, while our normal planting date is May 5,” he said. 

“Historically, yields are lower when you’re planting at a later date, so we decided to add some acreage to help offset that.”

Despite the late start to the growing season, weather this summer has fared well for the beet crop. 

The Aug. 15 prepile is only a day later than the earliest start in the company’s history, thanks in part to a cool spring and timely rains across much of the growing area.

Ingulsrud said that fields have been a little drier in the northern areas and wetter in the south, but conditions have averaged out across the region.

“The middle has really had good growing conditions,” he said. It’ll always vary a bit. It’s a very large area to take into account.”

Ingulsrud said that less than 20 percent of the company’s total acreage will be harvested during this year’s prepile, which serves as a trial run for full-scale harvest operations. 

Tonnage will be monitored and sugar content will be considered at that point to plan for the larger harvest, which is set to begin Oct. 1, according to the company official. 

American Crystal Sugar is owned by 2,650 shareholders in the Red River Valley and has North Dakota factories in Drayton and Hillsboro and Minnesota factories in Crookston, East Grand Forks and Moorhead.

In 2018, shareholders were paid around $48 per ton, compared to $46 per ton in 2017. 

Officials didn’t have a tally for this year’s payment.