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The American Crystal Sugar Co. factory in Hillsboro, N.D., is expected to continue beet slice through June 8, making the season one of the latest ever. The company started processing later in the fall of 2013 because it expected a 22- to 23-ton-per-acre crop, and ended up with a 25.2-ton crop. Mikkel Pates/Forum News Service

American Crystal nears late-processing record

FARGO, N.D. -- American Crystal Sugar Co. could match or set a new record for late-running processing, with its Hillsboro, N.D., factory expected to continue slicing 2013 crop through June 8.

"It's going to be really close, if not the longest ever," says Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture. Curiously, the previous slice record is tied at June 7 for five separate years 2013, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 1999.

"We're not breaking it by a lot," Ingulsrud says, noting that because of the difficulties of estimating tonnage, the end could come a day before or after the calculation.

The reason for the late processing is a misjudgment of the size of the crop. Yield projections last August ranged from 22 to 23 tons per acre, Ingulsrud says. The co-op board authorized a delay in the start of the beet harvest into early September to compensate, but warm, wet weather in September and October allowed the beets to continue to grow at an unexpected rate.

"If we'd have known how big the crop would have been, we would have started (processing) in August," Ingulsrud says. Typically, the harvest is scheduled to allow processing into mid-May, to avoid spoilage with a late processing season.

A few beets have been discarded, but that's routine and generally the beets have kept exceptionally well, Ingulsrud says. The long, cold winter and late spring was "ideal for storing sugar beets -- just not for getting them planted," Ingulsrud says. Also, the co-op has employed more chillers to condition the air in the buildings.

The 2013 crop yield ended up at an average of 25.2 tons per acre. Total tons were 10.982 million, which is shy of the bigger 11.639 million in 2008 and the 11.911 million record in 2007.

The company is 96 percent planted for 2014, compared with expectations. Ingulsrud says farmers were still working to finish planting on June 3.

"Some of the acres that are most difficult to get in this spring are those that got prevent-planted last year," he says. He thinks farmers have made the extra effort to grow a crop on those idled acres because the crop can help draw out moisture.

American Crystal is hoping to get 417,000 acres planted, and has about 400,000 planted so far. If realized, the planted acres would account for 84 percent of the 498,000 stock acres, or those purchased for the right to grow beets. In recent years, the co-op has allowed farmers to produce only a percentage of their stock acres, as yield-per-acre has increased and the company has worked to right-size its production to factory capacity and season length.

This year, the co-op initially told farmers they could plant a range of 76 to 81 percent of stock acres.

"We didn't change the range but we offered additional acres to people if they had any extra land available that could go into sugar beets," Ingulsrud says. Farmers added about 23,000 acres, which were spread fairly evenly through the Red River Valley, he says.

Ingulsrud acknowledges that the extra plantings were encouraging, considering some people were talking about not wanting to plant beets on joint ventures in 2014 because of expected low prices for beets.

"I think it's a positive sign that people are still very interested in growing sugar beets," Ingulsrud says.

Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., finished its slice on May 19.

As of June 3, the company was 110,000 acres planted, which is 1.52 shares per stock acre. The co-op on May 13 allowed farmers to plant from 1.6 to 1.8 acres per share, retaining the minimum required planting of 1.4 acres per owned stock share. The board waived the three-year rotation policy allowing a two-year rotation for 2014 only because of the wet conditions and a need for sufficient processing volume in the fall.