U.S. Crystal Sugar Growers Overcome Climate Challenges to Produce Respectable Harvest

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By early November, with the vast majority of the crop harvested, the company’s farmers had produced 11.77 million tonnes of sugar beets, said Steve Rosenau, director of agriculture for American Crystal Sugar Co. Yields were averaging 28.7 tonnes per acre, he said.

Last year, the production of American Crystal Sugar Co., based in Moorhead, Minnesota, totaled 10 million tonnes. The downside to the dry weather in fall 2020 that allowed farmers to complete the harvest in a record 16 days was that the sugar beets lacked the moisture that would have resulted in additional tonnage.

U.S. production of Crystal sugar beets in 2019 was also below average. That year, excessive rains, followed by freezing temperatures, left farmers about 30% or 115,000 of their area unharvested.

In 2019, US growers of Crystal Sugar Co. produced 6.5 million tonnes of sugar beets.

The sugar beet piles at the American Crystal Sugar Co. station near Reynolds, North Dakota were getting bigger and bigger on October 26, as farmers delivered their harvest throughout the day.  Ann Bailey / Agweek

The sugar beet piles at the American Crystal Sugar Co. station near Reynolds, North Dakota grew larger and larger on October 26, as farmers delivered their harvest throughout the day. Ann Bailey / Agweek

Production in 2021 appears to be on par with 2018, when farmers harvested an average of 28.9 tonnes per acre, the third highest in the cooperative’s history.

Several inches of rain in late summer and fall 2021, combined with warm temperatures, encouraged root growth. Temperatures were so unusually warm for the season that the start of this year’s harvest, which was due to start on October 1, has been delayed by about 10 days.

The delayed harvest was just one of many challenges American Crystal Sugar Co. growers faced during the 2021 growing season. In the spring, dry conditions caused poor germination in some fields. To ensure there would be an adequate supply of sugar beets for processing in 2021, American Crystal Sugar launched a voluntary program in which farmers could plant additional acres if they wanted. The additional acres brought the area from 2021 to 410,000, Rosenau said.

A constant stream of trucks left and entered the American Crystal Sugar Co. stacking station near Reynolds, North Dakota on October 26, 2021. Ann Bailey / Agweek

A constant stream of trucks left and entered the American Crystal Sugar Co. stacking station near Reynolds, North Dakota on October 26, 2021. Ann Bailey / Agweek

Once the crop was sown, the wind and dry conditions also created production problems, and it appeared that the crop would not perform as well as the company had hoped.

However, in summer and early fall several much needed inches of rain fell in the Red River Valley,

“It was desperately needed, and it changed our harvest,” Rosenau said. Tonnage increased by about 2.7 per acre after the rain.

“It’s gone from a below average harvest to a roughly average harvest,” he said.

The sugar content, in general, is lower in the southern Red River Valley and higher in the north, but averages around 17.9%, Rosenau said.

“Overall I think it’s a good, solid harvest,” he said.


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