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Published October 26, 2012, 02:31 PM

Sugar Beet Harvest Gets Going Again

The Red River Valley’s sugar beet crop is the odd man out in this season of early planted, early harvested crops, with digging actually behind normal schedules.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

The Red River Valley’s sugar beet crop is the odd man out in this season of early planted, early harvested crops, with digging actually behind normal schedules.

After a week or more of little or no lifting action in beet fields because of wet conditions, harvest and hauling began again Thursday.

Although this year started out early and fast, and the preliminary “pre-pile” part of the harvest was started earlier than ever before, snow and rains this month have frustrated the process, said Jeff Schweitzer, spokesman for American Crystal Sugar Co.

“The harvest was about 81 percent complete this morning,” he said Thursday afternoon, meaning little progress has happened for about a week. The five-year average pace is more like 90 percent complete by this point. “All the receiving stations we still have up are open today but they are getting very limited deliveries at this point. The sporadic rains have limited harvest activities.”

While Crystal’s Moorhead district has seen less rain and is 96-percent completed, the Drayton, N.D., district got socked with up to a foot of snow, then rains and still has a third of its beets in the field, Schweitzer said. The East Grand Forks, Crookston and Hillsboro, N.D., factory districts all have 12 to 20 percent of the crop left.

Above average

Sugar content of the beets is well above the long-term average of 17.5 percent, running between 18 and 19 percent. Yields also are above the five-year average of 23.5 tons per acre, averaging 26 tons per acre, Schweitzer said.

The Moorhead-based cooperative told its growers on Tuesday they could harvest all 434,000 acres planted. Earlier, as in most recent seasons, the co-op told growers they might have to leave some acres because the five factories couldn’t process the whole crop, as per-acre yields have steadily increased.

One concern now, with temperatures forecasted to fall into the low 20s at night and lots of wet fields, is possible frost damage to the beets in the ground, Schweitzer said. Plus, it’s more difficult in such wet conditions to bring the beets in clean enough to store well in the huge piles, he said.

Minn-Dak Growers, the smaller beet processing company based in Wahpeton, N.D., is nearer to the finish and has mentioned to its members that Crystal growers are interested in any help in the way of equipment and labor.

As of Sunday, the weekly crop progress survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture pegged the beet harvest at 81 percent complete, behind the five-year average of 86 percent by the same date in North Dakota. In Minnesota, the beet harvest was 88 percent complete, ahead of the five-year average of 81 percent.

Other crops

Otherwise, every other crop in the region has remained way ahead of the normal pace of harvest.

Corn in Minnesota was 96 percent combined by Sunday, far ahead of the 43 percent in a typical year. In North Dakota, 91 percent was harvested, compared with 29 percent in a typical year.

North Dakota’s sunflower harvest was 76 percent complete, well ahead of the normal pace of 23 percent by the same date. In Minnesota, the sunflower harvest is about over, with 96 percent harvested, ahead of the normal pace of 47 percent.

Minnesota’s potato harvest was complete while only 6 percent of North Dakota’s spud acres remained undug, in line with the five-year average.

Region still dry

Despite above-average rainfall so far in October and the general cool, dampness the past week that has been such a change from this year’s warm, dry weather, the Grand Forks area remains at a deficit of 3 inches of precipitation for the year, according to the National Weather Service office on UND’s campus.

Fargo still is 7 inches below normal precipitation for the year despite receiving 2 inches of rain this month through Wednesday.

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