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Mikkel Pates, Forum Communications Co., Published April 24 2012

American Crystal beet planting starts

FARGO – Sugar beet processing season is coming to a close in the Red River Valley, even as the planting season is revving up.

Jeff Schweitzer, spokesman for American Crystal Sugar Co. in Moorhead, said most of the factories are down to processing beets in cold storage sheds. In some cases, the remaining beet storages are equipped with chilling mat covers, with large refrigeration units that can be employed if necessary.

Factories are scheduled to end slicing in the coming weeks on a staggered basis: Moorhead, April 26; Hillsboro, N.D., April 30; East Grand Forks, Minn., May 3; Crookston, Minn., May 5; and Drayton, N.D., May 6.

One of the biggest factors affecting beet storage is that this past winter was 15 degrees warmer than average. In March, there were many days that were 40 degrees warmer than normal.

“We would normally expect that we’d see that warm weather affecting our piles. However, beet storage has held up pretty well. That has to do with storage techniques we have – and monitoring systems,” Schweitzer said.

Most of the outside piles that the company intended to be frozen did get frozen, but “just not as hard as in the past” because the long stretches of really cold weather didn’t materialize, he said. There was some deterioration on pile ends and edges, but he said, “We’re fairly pleased with how the beets have stored.”

Crystal is bringing in trucks to haul away those deteriorated beets, which it has done from year to year, he said. If it were not for the improved storage techniques, there would’ve been more beets that had to be discarded this season, he said.

The company is concerned that the warm weather might increase the likelihood of objectionable odors, Schweitzer said. He said the company has put “a lot of assets” into controlling odor at Moorhead, East Grand Forks and other plants, but that weather conditions affect odors.

“We’ve been pretty good on odors for the past four or five years,” but the warm weather may “challenge some of our systems,” he said. On the optimistic side of the issue, the odor problem could be mitigated by the early end to the slicing season.

Meanwhile, about 30,000 acres of sugar beets have been planted as of April 16. Crystal has plans for planting 439,000 acres in 2012, Schweitzer said. That’s up from last year’s initial plantings of 425,000. More were eventually allowed because of the spring planting delays. Some 452,000 acres were planted and 445,000 acres were harvested. The company brought in 9.2 million tons, while it typically shoots for 10.8 million tons.

Mikkel Pates writes for Agweek.

Grand Forks Herald staff writer Tu-Uyen Tran contributed to this story.