American Crystal Sugar Co. expects to finish processing its 2020 sugar beets by mid-April, nearly a month earlier than it typically wraps up its slicing campaign.

The company’s 2,650 shareholders typically plant sugar beet acreage to produce tonnage that will keep its factories slicing the crop until May 15. The company has factories in the Minnesota cities of Moorhead, East Grand Forks and Crookston and in Hillsboro, N.D., and Drayton N.D.

Processing is being completed earlier this year because 2020 sugar beet production fell short of the target, said David Braseth, American Crystal Sugar Co. vice president of operations.

“We had a short crop, overall. Our target was to try to get 11.4 to 11.5 million tons of beets,” Braseth said. “We harvested just a little over 10 million tons and there’s a certain amount of shrink in the pile. We probably will be slicing about 9.3 million tons, all together."

Lack of rain in August and September 2020 resulted in reduced production.

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While the lack of rain hurt sugar beet yields, it was beneficial for harvesting the 2020 crop. The 17-day harvest, which concluded Oct. 16, was the quickest in at least 25 years.

The first factory district to finish slicing the 2021 crop was Hillsboro, where the campaign wrapped up processing of 2 million tons of sugar beets on March 19.

“If they had a normal campaign, they would have sliced closer to 2.5 million tons,” Braseth said.

The Moorhead factory district, which is expected to finish processing on Monday, March 29, will be the next to wrap up its slicing campaign, Braseth said. The Crookston district’s target date is expected to be about a week later on April 6, and processing at the East Grand Forks and Drayton factories is expected to be done on, or about, about April 11, he said.

Most years, American Crystal Sugar Co. factories transport sugar beets between one another for slicing, but because production was reduced this year, that wasn’t cost-effective.

“When it’s short, there’s no use paying freight. When we have a short crop, we try to save as much money as we can,” Braseth said.

This is the second straight year that American Crystal Sugar Co. finished processing its crop before May because production the previous year was lower than average.

The company’s Hillsboro factory district finished slicing the 2019 sugar beet crop on Feb. 3, 2020, and the Crookston factory district finished on Feb. 15, 2020. Factories in East Grand Forks and Moorhead finished slicing their 2019 sugar beets in early March 2020 and the Drayton factory wrapped up its campaign in April 2020.

The shortened 2020 campaign resulted from drastically reduced production in 2019. Heavy rains and snow that fell left fields too muddy to harvest, and farmers had to abandon about one-third of the crop – 115,000 acres. Production totaled 7.7 million tons in 2019.

If the warm, dry weather the Red River Valley has had in March continues into April, the 2021 sugar beet season soon will commence.

“In a couple of weeks we could see planters rolling,” Braseth said.