After wet weather last week delayed the start of the pre-pile sugar beet harvest in the Red River Valley, American Crystal Sugar Company’s five factories are up and running this week.

The cooperative had planned to start the pre-pile Thursday, Aug. 15, but the ground was too muddy, said Dan Gowan, American Crystal Sugar Co. director of agriculture. On Saturday, it was dry enough to start the pre-pile harvest at the Drayton (N.D.) Factory District and on Sunday at the East Grand Forks and Crookston factories. The pre-pile began Monday in Hillsboro and Moorhead.

American Crystal Sugar Co. is owned by 2,600 Red River Valley shareholders. The cooperative operates factories in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead and in the North Dakota cities of Hillsboro and Drayton.

During the pre-pile, farmers harvest about 15 percent of their sugar beet acres and factories begin processing the crop. Typically, farmers begin digging sugar beets on a Tuesday in mid-August and factories begin processing the crop on a Thursday, but the cooperative waited a few days longer this year so plants would grow more, Gowan said.

“We were going to start piling on the 14th and begin processing on the 15th, but we set everything back a couple of days,” he said. Then it rained and pushed back the start of pre-pile two more days.

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Farmers who grow sugar beets for American Crystal Sugar Co. will harvest about 395,000 acres this year. The company’s farmers seeded an additional 10,000 acres of sugar beets late this spring because cold, wet conditions delayed the planting season. Farmers typically plant about 380,000 acres of sugar beets, Gowan said.

“That’s what we feel we can handle, so we can finish processing by the middle of May,” he said.

“We’ll find out at the end of harvest if that was a good move,” Gowan said. It’s risky for the cooperative to add acres because it could end up with a huge amount of sugar beets to process, he said.

American Crystal Sugar estimates the 2019 crop will yield 28.2 tons per acre, on average. The sugar beet yields generally are the lowest in the northern Red River Valley where it is dry, Gowan said.

“Grafton, St. Thomas, Hamilton, Cavalier are the driest areas in the valley. The sugar beets there are going to be 2 tons below the valley average.”

However, the sugar beets in the Drayton factory district likely will have higher sugar content than average, he said.

The highest yields are expected to be in the Moorhead factory district, where they are estimated at 30 tons per acre, Gowan said. That’s despite wet weather that caused diseases that damaged about 2,000 acres of sugar beets.

Per-acre yield estimates for the Hillsboro and Crookston factory districts are 29 tons per acre; East Grand Forks, 28.5 tons per acre; and Drayton, 26.5 tons per acre, he said.

The American Crystal Sugar Co. harvest will begin in earnest Oct. 1.