Red River Valley Sugarbeet Harvest Could Not Be Any Sweeter

October 19, 2015 12:30 PM
 
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Anyone who has ever driven through the Red River Valley in October, whether on the Minnesota or the North Dakota side, knows it’s sugarbeet harvest as truck after truck overflowing with the crop carries them to piling stations. This year, trucks and processing plants were barely able to keep up with what is proving to be a bumper harvest of sugarbeets.

“It seems to me we are on track to have a record crop,” said Tom Peters, extension sugarbeet agronomist with the University of North Dakota, Fargo.

Not only are Red River Valley sugarbeet growers expecting one of their best—if not the best—crops ever due to this year’s nearly ideal growing season, they are also enjoying stunning fall weather that is allowing the region to wrap up harvest early. 

According to USDA’s latest Crop Progress report, 70% of the nation’s sugarbeets had been harvested as of October 11, compared with a five-year average pace of only 47%. Minnesota, the nation’s top producer of sugar beets, was 88% complete, compared with the five-year average of 56%. In nearby North Dakota, the third-largest producer of sugarbeets behind Idaho, 92% of the sugar beets were harvested, compared with the more typical 58% for this time of year.

“The last two years--2014 and 2015---have been extremely efficient harvests,” said Peters. “In 2013, we were still harvesting well into November due to cold and extremely wet conditions. This has been a fast efficient harvest and is on par with 2014 as one of the fastest ever.”

Sugarbeet harvests are evaluated on both yield and sugar content, and both are coming in at near record levels.

Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative, in Wahpeton, N.D., said the vast majority of the cooperative’s 300 members had completed their sugarbeet harvest as of Oct. 15. The co-op’s average yield this year is about 25.6 tons per acre, compared with an all-time high of about 27 tons per acre.

“It’s in the upper 10% of yields this year,” said Knudsen. “Last year’s harvest was quicker, but it was also smaller. This year, we are over 3 million tons for the third time ever. The other two years were 2012 and 2010.” 

Knudsen won’t know whether the co-op’s total production will hit a new record until all of the sugarbeets have been weighed.

Growers are paid both on total weight and sugar content, and the sugar content of this year’s crop is also coming in high. American Crystal Sugar recently announced an average sugar content for its growers of about 17.5%, reported Peters.

“The high sugar content coupled with a record year could mean good revenues for farmers,” Peters added.

Red River Valley sugarbeet growers are also happy that this year’s harvest has been mostly dry. Harvesting under dry conditions creates less damage and compaction to the soil, says Peters, and that is good news for the crops planted in sequence with sugarbeets, which are only grown every 3 to 4 years on any particular field. 

How is your sugarbeet harvest shaping up? Let us know in the comments. 

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