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Sugar beet harvest looks sweet: Pre-pile begins in Red River Valley

Cory Kritzberger, operations manager at American Crystal Sugar Co. in East Grand Forks, is impressed with the quality of early loads delivered to the East Grand Forks facility on the first day of pre-pile harvest for the 2017 campaign. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service1 / 2
A truck drives in to a warehouse at the American Crystal Sugar plant in East Grand Forks to be unloaded on the first day of pre-pile for the sugar cooperative Tuesday, Aug. 15. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service2 / 2

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Cory Kritzberger smiled as he picked up a sugar beet at American Crystal Sugar Co.'s plant in East Grand Forks.

"For several years, I haven't seen beets shaped this nicely, and these are from the headlands," the plant operations manager said, pointing out the long roots and clean skin. "It's kind of exciting."

The preview of sorts for the sugar beet harvest in Red River Valley began Tuesday morning, Aug. 15, as American Crystal ramped up its pre-pile operations, allowing plants to stockpile beets while the plants are allowed to fully mature. Yields are forecast at an all-time high of 32.2 tons per acre, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sugar content is expected to be much better than last year, and plant populations could hit record high numbers, said Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture at American Crystal.

"The crop got off to a really good start this spring," he said. "Our sampling of fields indicate on average we've got a little over 210 plants for every 100 feet of row. On average, we are less than 200."

Last year, excess moisture gave producers troubles by diminishing the sugar content and preventing farmers from getting into the fields in some areas.

This year, the sugar content is above average, the beets are nicely shaped and the soil is minimal as they come into the plants, said Kritzberger, who has been employed by American Crystal for more than 20 years. The crops look consistent and promising, he added.

The start date for pre-pile is early compared with many years—American Crystal tends to start in early September. However, the company has started in August the past several years, Ingulsrud said.

"It's dictated by the size of the harvest," Kritzberger said. "The larger the crop, the earlier we start."

The harvest won't begin in full earnest until Oct. 1, but American Crystal expects to take in 1.8 million tons of beets before then, or about 15 percent of the harvest, Kritzberger said.

"We only harvest enough to keep the factories going," Ingulsrud said, adding the weather has to be cool enough to store the beets.

The East Grand Forks yard, the largest in the Red River Valley, expects 250 trucks per day for pre-pile, Kritzberger said. It's a way to prepare the plant for the onslaught of trucks Oct. 1, as well as adjust to the flow of safety training.

Record-high yields could be reached, but it will depend on the next few weeks as beets mature, Ingulsrud said. The sugar content also could change.

"It is really influenced by the amount of rain we get in the months of August and September," he said. "So far, the beets have been able to go down into the deep subsoil and are getting enough moisture to develop nicely."