The 2020 American Crystal Sugar Co. 2020 stockpile sugar beet harvest commenced Wednesday, Sept. 30, under flawless conditions.

The harvest got under way in all five of the cooperative’s factory districts a day earlier than originally planned because the cool, dry weather conditions Wednesday were ideal for harvesting sugar beets, said Dan Gowan, American Crystal Sugar Co.'s director of agriculture. Meanwhile, the forecast is for the favorable harvest conditions to continue, which will allow farmers to work without weather-related delays.

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

This year’s sugar beet harvest is the polar opposite of last year’s when excessive rains plagued it from beginning to end. Rains delayed the start of the 2019 pre-pile harvest by a few days, and the wet weather pattern continued throughout October, a month in which several inches of rain and as much as a foot of snow fell on some Red River Valley sugar beet fields.

At that time, American Crystal Sugar Co. told its members to stop harvesting on Nov. 9, 2019, after a freeze earlier in the month rendered the sugar beets unsuitable for processing. In the end, one-third or about 115,000 acres of the cooperative’s sugar beets were left unharvested in 2019.

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This harvest season, not only the weather for the launch of the stockpile harvest, but also the weather during the pre-pile harvest, which began Aug. 17, was ideal.

Besides making way for a smooth start to the 2020 harvest, the dry weather of the past six weeks also boosted the sugar content of the beets, according to Gowan, adding that the sugar content varies from 17% to 20% and will likely average in the mid-18s.

“We’re very happy with the sugar,” he said.

The sugar beets also grew in size during the past month and a half, resulting in an increase in the average per acre tonnage of American Crystal Sugar Co.’s estimate of 28.4 to 28.7, Gowan said.

The Moorhead factory district generally has the highest per acre yields, averaging 30 to 31 tons, he said..The lowest per acre yields of 26 to 27 tons are in the Drayton factory district, where spring planting was delayed because of wet conditions and where fields were drowned out from heavy rains this summer.

The cooperative estimates the 2020 sugar beet crop will total 11.6 to 11.7 million tons, Gowan said. That’s about 4 million tons more than last year’s disastrous crop.

If this year’s crop tonnage is much higher than the estimate, American Crystal Sugar Co., may tell farmers to leave some of the at-risk sugar beet acres unharvested, Gowan said. At-risk acres are extra tonnage that could result in the factories running longer than optimal in the spring.

“If the crop doesn’t get a lot bigger than 30 (tons per acre), we will take them all,” said Gowan, noting the cooperative won’t make a decision on at-risk acres until American Crystal officials get a clearer picture of yields.

For now, members of the cooperative are grateful for the extreme difference in weather conditions from last year’s harvest season.

“This is just a great year," Gowan said.