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Weather speeds corn, bean harvest; stalls sugar beet lifting

Sugar beets are piled at the American Crystal Sugar Co.'s Kindred, N.D., receiving station as part of the pre-harvest process in this October 2010 file photo. Forum file photo

The hot, dry weather of the past few weeks allowed the harvest of corn and beans in North Dakota and Minnesota finally by Sunday to move up to or ahead of the normal pace, after a growing season that has been behind schedule from the start due to too much water.

Meanwhile, just as the full-on harvest of sugar beets began during the weekend in the Red River Valley, the same way-above-average temperatures brought it to a quick halt.

American Crystal Sugar Co.'s growers began their "stock-pile" harvest early Saturday morning, after a month of "pre-pile" digging. But the harvest was halted about noon Saturday as temperatures got too high for beets to store well, company spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said Monday. Early Sunday it resumed, but the Moorhead-based co-op put harvest on hold about noon Sunday until things cooled down, Schweitzer said.

On Sunday, the Grand Forks International Airport reported a record high temperature of 83 for the date, tying the previous record set in 1997. The temperature was 21 degrees above normal.

Last Wednesday, record high temperatures also were set in Grand Forks and Fargo. The National Weather Service says it should remain dry and well-above-normal temperatures all week, although not much more than 80 degrees.

With about 800,000 tons of beets dug during the weekend, added to the 900,000 tons harvested during pre-pile to get the five processing factories up and running, the co-op's growers have about 18 percent of the total crop off, Schweitzer said.

Harvest won't begin again until temperatures fall to, well, fall-like levels.

"We are at the mercy of Mother Nature," Schweitzer said.

But the factories will continue operating, using beets already delivered and the contracted workers who replaced the union employees locked out by the Moorhead-based cooperative over a lack of agreement by Aug. 1 on a new contract.

Schweitzer said no new negotiations have been scheduled.

The company is estimating per-acre yields will average about 21 tons, which is in line with long-term averages, but well-below the past few years' average of about 25 tons per acre.

Sugar content of the beets is estimated at 17.5 percent, which is at the five-year average, Schweitzer said.

At these temperatures, the beets can continue to add some weight and sugar content, he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly crop progress report, which includes the three sugar beet cooperatives in the region, 13 percent of Minnesota's beets were harvested by Sunday, compared with 31 percent by this time last year and 25 percent on average from 2006-1010 by Oct. 2.

North Dakota's beet growers had 15 percent of the crop dug by Sunday, compared with 34 percent by this time last year and 24 percent in the five-year average.

Meanwhile, the hot, dry weather has sped the harvest for other crops, as corn harvest began last week in North Dakota, with 1 percent of the crop combined by Sunday, which is not far off the five-year average pace of 3 percent by Oct. 2, according to USDA's ag statistics office in Fargo.

The report said 58 percent of North Dakota's corn crop was mature by Sunday, compared with the five-year average of 69 percent by Oct. 2 and 86 percent a year ago.

Six percent of Minnesota's corn was combined by Sunday, a normal pace; 80 percent of the crop is mature, compared with 73 percent of the crop by Oct. 2 on average from 2006 to 2010.

The harvest of soybeans and dry edible beans moved ahead of the average pace in both states, with 43 percent of North Dakota's crop combined by Sunday, compared with the five-year average of 30 percent by Oct. 2.

Minnesota's farmers combined nearly a third of their soybean crop just last week, bringing the total harvested to 35 percent of the crop; that's ahead of the five-year average for the date of 29 percent harvested by Oct. 2.

More than two-thirds -- 68 percent -- of North Dakota's dry edible beans were harvested by Sunday, ahead of the five-year average of 61 percent by the same date.

The dry edible bean crop in Minnesota was 77 percent harvested, right at the five-year average.

North Dakota's potatoes were 54 percent dug by Sunday, compared with the normal pace of 67 percent; 73 percent of Minnesota's spuds were dug, also at the five-year average pace of harvest.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to