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Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., Published October 21 2010

'An amazing year' for sugar beets in valley

As “an amazing year” ends, American Crystal Sugar’s beet harvest was set to be complete late Wednesday, said President and CEO David Berg.

Only a few acres were left by late afternoon, company officials reported.

Another abnormally warm late October day capped what has been a near-perfect season that will show a record per-acre yield of beets and above-average sugar content, Berg said.

Plus, it’s a cleaner bunch of beets piled across the five factory districts of the Moorhead-based firm, allowing them to retain quality through seven more months before they are turned into sugar, cutting expenses all around.

“Things are good,” Berg said. “Things have gone so well in so many aspects of this crop season, it’s pretty rare.”

Sugar prices are at historically high levels, too, which bodes well for what American Crystal growers will receive for this crop, Berg said.

The sugar market is controlled by tariffs, but world sugar prices have doubled since June, going from 14 cents to 28 cents a pound, he said.

American Crystal is the nation’s largest sugar beet producer. This spring, its growers in the Red River Valley planted 420,000 acres, about 84 percent of share acres owned by 2,768 share owners and produced by 850 “farm units,” Berg said. About 5,000 acres drowned out or otherwise didn’t make it to harvest.

“It appears to be a record yield in terms of tons per acre, about 26.5 tons per acre,” said Jeff Schweitzer, American Crystal spokesman. “That’s a little less than our earlier predictions.”

But it’s a full ton, or about 4 percent, higher than the previous record yield and will mean about 11 million tons of beets from the 415,000 acres harvested.

Before harvest began, American Crystal projected up to 28.5 tons average yield.

But some disease, including root rot, which doesn’t show up much until the beets are lifted, hit 3,000 to 4,000 acres, mostly in the northern valley, where too much rain came, Schweitzer said.

Daniel Olson, who farms near the Red River southeast of Thompson, N.D., said his beets showed some root rot once the tops came off, and that lowered his average yield to about 24 tons an acre.

The same warm temperatures that paused harvest during the days also kept the beets growing and adding sugar, Schweitzer said.

The average sugar content looks to be about 17.7 percent, slightly above the five-year average of 17.5 percent, and a full percent above last year’s 16.7 percent, Schweitzer said.

Thank a perfect year, Berg said.

Stephen Lee is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald