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Mikkel Pates, Forum Communications, Published August 12 2012

American Crystal Sugar expects bigger harvest

American Crystal Sugar Co. shareholders will start their so-called “pre-pile” harvest on Tuesday, the earliest in company history, according to a company spokesman.

Jeff Schweitzer said factories will start receiving beets Thursday.

The company has started pre-pile operations in the third week in August at times in the past five years.

“We anticipate that we’re going to have a larger crop than last year, estimating it at somewhere above 25 tons an acre for an average,” Schweitzer said.

Ninety percent of the crop was planted in the early part of May, he said. “The growing season, for the most part, has been pretty solid. We’ve gotten timely rains in the northern tier of the Red River Valley.”

In 2011, the cooperative’s crop wasn’t completely planted until early June.

But an early harvest will mean that American Crystal will have to deal with heat, which can cause beets to rot.

Schweitzer said the co-op will make sure it doesn’t have more than a four-day supply on hand. “It’s a delicate balance but one that we’ve had to go through in the past. Our ag department is well-versed on how to bring in the beets and care for them while they’re getting ready to be processed. Shareholders are no strangers to bringing in some beets in warm weather.”

Typically the pre-pile harvest brings in 10 percent of the crop. The full-scale harvest is scheduled to start on its traditional Oct. 1 timeframe.

“This may extend the pre-pile by a couple of weeks,” Schweitzer said, noting the traditional start for pre-pile harvest is Sept. 1. “As crops have gotten bigger, we have advanced that into August.” It’s difficult to say whether the pre-pile will account for more than the 10 percent because that depends on how the total crop turns out, he said.

The early harvest is not related to the company’s new factory staff because of a lock-out of the Bakery Workers union since Aug. 1, 2011, Schweitzer said. The company has since hired temporary replacement workers.

Schweitzer confirmed that this year’s harvest will be managed by Cory Kritzberger, who was named Crystal’s director of agriculture about a month ago. Dan Bernhardson, who had held that post, was promoted to head Crystal’s Technical Services Center.

Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., is starting its pre-pile harvest on Aug. 14, as earlier announced.

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Mikkel Pates writes for Agweek