The rumble of sugar beet trucks is back as area farmers wind down an early pre-pile harvest to help bring sugar factories back online.
Despite high moisture levels hurting the crop throughout some parts of the Red River Valley, industry experts say this year’s full stockpile harvest of sugar beets, which begins Oct. 1, could match early projections if current conditions hold up.
The pre-pile harvest is a practice in which growers harvest a portion of their crop early to cut back on sugar beet storage requirements and allow sugar processors to avoid staying idle.
East Grand Forks farmer Richard Krueger said he started his pre-pile harvest Monday. By Wednesday, he and his son, along with some hired help, expected to put in another day of work on a 150-acre sugar beet field slightly north of the city.
“It’s a little wet out there, so I’m hoping it dries up some more,” Krueger said, adding that the pre-pile had been going well so far.
He estimated that he would end “at or above average tonnage” from his land by the end of the harvest season and said he’d been helped by an earlier planting allowed by a mild spring.
Brian Ingulsrud, American Crystal Sugar Co. vice president of agriculture, said the timing of this year’s pre-pile harvest came sooner than usual because of the early seeding, which also tends to help raise the overall yield. He added that the timing of this year’s pre-pile harvest is close to last year’s.
Ingulsrud said this season’s yield is expected to come out to 28 tons per acre, harvested over more than 400,000 acres. In total, that could end up being 11 million tons of sugar beets dug out of fields on both sides of the Red River.
“It looks fairly average overall, but it’s really a tale of two crops,” Ingulsrud said. “If you look at crop south of Grand Forks, it’s really looking fantastic, it’s probably the best crop most growers south of Grand Forks have seen. Whereas on the north side, it’s been a really challenging growing year in that most places have gotten much more rain than we’ve needed.”
That excess rain has either killed beet plants altogether or stunted their growth, Ingulsrud said. Almost as bad as outright crop death, he continued, is the risk of disease and root rot spreading among the beet plants.
Beyond reducing overall yields, disease can create storage problems for a crop that is harvested in early October and might not be processed until mid-May.
“We only want beets that are really healthy going into that pile,” Ingulsrud said. “When you have unhealthy beets exposed to root rot, the chances of storing it are significantly reduced.”
Duane Maatz, Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association executive director, said he’d been hearing the same issues from the nearly 800 farm units his organization represents.
Maatz said the growers association, which represents stakeholders in the American Crystal Sugar cooperative, knew of “at least 10,000 acres” of crop that had been lost in the northern part of the production area. An additional problem presented by over-wet conditions is a corresponding reduction of the sugar yielded by each individual beet.
“We’re trying to put on sugar right now,” Maatz said, adding that the conditions so far this week have worked well for that. “We get reports each day on how this is going, and it’s going well now, but we don’t need any additional rain to grow the crop itself.”
Ingulsrud said that, so far, studies to monitor the sugar levels have shown a lower amount than is otherwise typical for this time of year. Still, he said it was too early in the season to tell where the sugar content of the crop would end up.
The month of September “plays a huge role” in how that statistic will finish, Ingulsrud said, and ample amounts of sunlight can bring sugar levels back up to normal. A crop with lower sugar levels can have a “pretty negative impact” on the amount of sugar able to be extracted and ultimately brought to market, he said.
Despite the loss of some northern acreage, Maatz said there are places in the affected area where crops are still improving. Ultimately, location alone may make the difference between a good year and a bad one.
“It’s painful to know there’ll be people who struggle to get this crop out of the ground and harvested,” Maatz said. “But on the other end of the spectrum, we have guys who’ll have an amazing crop. If things continue, we’ll expect some people to do very well.”
Source: Andrew Haffner, Agweek
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