HILLSBORO – American Crystal Sugar Co. in Hillsboro apparently has finished slicing sugar beets, about three and half months earlier than it typically completes the campaign.

The company posted on its Facebook page Wednesday, Feb. 5, that the Hillsboro factory finished slicing at 3:05 p.m, Monday, Feb. 3. Calls were made by the Herald to American Crystal Sugar Co. to confirm the information, but those calls were not returned.

Typically the company’s slicing campaign at its five factory districts lasts until the middle of May and, less frequently, until June. About 3,000 farmers in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota grow sugar beets for American Crystal, which is based in Moorhead.

American Crystal factories in the North Dakota towns of Hillsboro and Drayton and the Minnesota cities of East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead operate 24 hours a day during the slicing campaign, producing 150 pounds of beet sugar per second, according to the company website. Each processing season’s total sugar production is about 3 billion pounds. The company also produces about 800,000 tons of other agricultural products during its annual sugar campaign.

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The Hillsboro factory slices 2.5 million tons of sugar beets annually during an average annual slice campaign of 260 to 275 days. The factory, on average, produces 8.5 million hundred-pound bags of sugar annually, the website said.

Meanwhile, the Hillsboro factory, built in 1973, employs 225 workers year-round and another 55 during the sugar beet campaign, according to the website.

In 2019, it was clear by November that slicing the beets would not take as long as it does most years. From the onset of the 2019 harvest, wet, muddy conditions hampered farmers’ harvest efforts. In early November, American Crystal told farmers to stop harvesting sugar beets because they had been damaged by unseasonably cold temperatures that left the crop unsuitable for storage.

About one-third of the cooperative’s acres – 115,000 acres – were left in the field in 2019. A good share of that acreage was in the fields of farmers who deliver their beets to the Hillsboro and East Grand Forks factory districts.

Farmers who grow sugar beets for American Crystal Sugar harvested a total of 7.7 million tons in 2019, 36% less than the 11 million tons they harvested in 2018.

As a result of the reduction in the amount of sugar beets harvested this fall, farmers will be paid $37 per ton for the 2019 crop, $17.78 per ton less they were for the 2018 crop. Meanwhile, the company will subtract $3 in “unit retains” which are withheld as an equity contribution from members and historically repaid after seven years, according to a December 2019 story by Mikkel Pates, an Agweek reporter. Agweek and the Grand Forks Herald are owned by Forum Communications.

Besides the lower 2019 payment, farmers who were unable to harvest their sugar beets are required by American Crystal to pay it back at $343 for each unharvested acre.