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American Crystal halts sugar beet harvest

MOORHEAD - American Crystal Sugar Co. halted its sugar beet harvest Tuesday because temperatures dipped below 20 degrees and the crowns, or tops, of the beets were getting frosted.

Company spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said all five factory districts dug no beets Tuesday. "We will take a look at it again at noon (today)," he said. About 65 percent of the crop was harvested as of Tuesday morning, he said.

When temperatures get below 20, the beets, especially if the green tops have been lopped off in anticipation of the root crop being lifted, can freeze. Frozen beets don't store well in the giant outdoor piles that are maintained during the winter processing season. One factory district announced on American Crystal's Web site that it would not take any frozen beets from growers.

Schweitzer said some growers reported fields that had even lower temperatures.

This week, company officials announced that the grower/members of the farmer-owned cooperative can harvest all their planted acres. In recent years, including this season, growers have been told to set aside 10 percent of their beet acres for possible plowing under, because the Moorhead-based cooperative has been producing so well it can't handle all the tons of beets grown.

But all 422,000 acres planted by the 875 growers will be lifted, Schweitzer said.

Yields are averaging 23 to 24 tons per acre, slightly below the records set the past two years, but well above 10-year averages. The sugar content of the beets is running slightly below the 17.5 percent average of the past five years, Schweitzer said.