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Tops of some beets were affected by temperatures that dipped to 10 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Tops were visibly frost-damaged. Photo taken Oct. 22, 2018, near Cavalier, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Beet harvest dances with freeze forecasts

CAVALIER, N.D.—Jace Brown has had a pretty good sugar beet harvest. The 26-year-old figured he'd be done with sugar beet harvest on Oct. 23 on the farm near Cavalier in northeast North Dakota's Pembina County.

The sugar beets were affected by freezing temperatures in early October. "They were (affected) for a little bit there, but after it warmed up, they came back around and haven't had any problems since," Brown said in a field interview Oct. 22.

Jace Brown raises about 200 acres of sugar beets near Cavalier, N.D. As of Oct. 23, American Crystal Sugar Co., was about 85 percent complete, said Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture. Much of the company harvest was shut down again because of a frost overnight on Oct. 22.

"I think it's going to take a while for beets to have a chance of healing up so we're ready for long-term storage," Ingulsrud said. He said another frost was possible Oct. 23, but then warmer temperatures were forecast. He said sometimes the company direct-ships frozen beets from the field to factories without going into outlying piling stations first, but usually only when there are only 5 percent left in the field.

"With 15 percent left in the field, that's about 2 million tons, and it's hard for the factories to keep up with that," he said. Ingulsrud said sugar content is still expected to average more than 18 percent, which is good.

The completion rates at Crystal's five factory districts were Drayton, N.D., 90 percent; East Grand Forks, Minn., 85 percent; Crookston, Minn., 81 percent; Hillsboro, N.D., 78 percent, and Moorhead, Minn., 91 percent.

The processing plant at Hillsboro, N.D., was running at full-steam on Oct. 22.Meanwhile, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., was 95 percent complete. Sidney Sugars, Inc., of Sidney, Mont., was 97 percent complete and expected to be completed by Oct. 26, said Duane Peters, ag manager.

Brown raises about 200 acres of beets of his own. He and a friend, David "Cooter" Symington, of Neche, N.D., do some beet work together. Symington was combining soybeans while Brown ran the beet lifter.

Any beets affected by frost are assessed by simply slicing them open, which can reveal a dark spot that can indicate damage, which is obvious in contrast with the white flesh of an undamaged beet.

"Once they thaw out, it goes away and they kind of heal themselves," Brown says. After the cold weather, there was a warm spell. "We were digging and they almost shut us down (because) the beets were too hot again," he says.

Brown's farm's yield has been hanging around the high 20-ton-per-acre range, to the the low

30-ton range. Sugar content was more than 18 percent, he said.

In addition to occasional lifter breakdowns, one of the pesky issues with an on-again, off-again harvest is that some of the truck drivers that have been lined up run out of vacation time and have to go back to work in the towns they've come from. He seemed to take it all in stride. "It's coming along all right," he says.