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Sherri Keaton, Published July 23 2010

Sugar beet harvest to begin Aug. 17

David Berg knows a thing or two about the white, powdery, sweet stuff his company produces. As president of American Crystal Sugar Co., he knows when the sugar beet crops are good and when the harvest is plentiful.

This year is one of those times. Because the sugar beet crop is so large, American Crystal’s pre-pile harvest will most likely start on Aug. 17, which is about two weeks earlier than normal.

The pre-pile harvest allows growers to bring in a small amount of the crop to prepare factories for the full harvest.

“Like many crops, it’s been a favorable growing season, and that is reflective in the fact that we’ll be starting the factories two weeks early,” Berg said.

The pre-piling process will feed the five factories in Drayton and Hillsboro, N.D., and Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston, Minn. These five sugar beet plants are within a 60- to 70-mile-wide band that starts south of Moorhead and ends at the Canadian border.

The full stock-pile harvest will begin normally around Oct. 1, when the sugar beets are stored for processing, Berg said.

An early spring meant sugar beet farmers got their crops in early, he said.

Some of the beets were planted on April 15, and the larger share of them were planted in late April, which added two to three weeks to the growing season. “Having those extra days to grow means opportunity to have significant additional tons,” Berg said.

“Like anything else, the longer the beet is in the ground, the longer it has the opportunity to grow,” he said.

Last year’s beet harvest was poor because they weren’t planted until the middle of June, “and you just know you are not going to have very good results planting that late,” Berg said.

Two factors define a good beet crop: tons of beets per acre and sugar content, he said.

Last year, the beets produced 22.3 tons per acre, and it was OK, Berg said. “This year, our projection is 25½ (for all acres), which would be near record, the largest ever. We want to harvest a lot of tons.”

A good year for sugar content in the beets is 17.5 to 18 percent, Berg said. It’s too early to tell what the content will be this year, “but we’re hoping to have the percent in a normal to higher range.”

American Crystal is now replacing the roofs of two football-sized storage facilities in north Moorhead. Berg said the work should be done in time to receive the pre-pile harvest. The roofs of the 25-year-old facilities collapsed in January because of the weight of snow and frozen rain.

The collapses didn’t damage beets in the facilities. Beets were removed in April as they normally would have been, said Dan Bernhardson, director of agriculture for American Crystal.