MOORHEAD — American Crystal Sugar Co. farmer shareholders who had to leave sugar beets in the field this fall will have to pay back the company $343 per acre for the unharvested acres, said growers for the company. The money will be used to cover the company's fixed costs.

Farmers who grow sugar beets for American Crystal Sugar Co. were unable to harvest about one-third of the crop, said Jeff Schweitzer, American Crystal Sugar Co. spokesman. The company received about 7.5 million tons of sugar beets this fall, Schweitzer said. American Crystal Sugar Co. typically receives about 11.5 million tons of beets each harvest.

The Moorhead-based company told farmers Saturday, Nov. 9, that it was halting the harvest because it is not economical to process the sugar beets, which were in poor condition and had high levels of mud and leaves mixed in with them. The decision to end the 2019 harvest came two weeks after American Crystal Sugar Co. informed its growers it would accept 1.2 million tons of frozen beets. The company typically does not accept frozen beets.

The 2019 sugar beet harvest was stymied by wet weather from the start, when both the onset of the pre-pile harvest in August and the full harvest in October were delayed by rain and, later, snow. Harvest conditions only got worse as October progressed; a storm dumped as much as 2 feet of snow on already saturated soil, leaving fields too muddy to support harvest equipment.

In late October, temperatures dropped into the upper teens in some areas, then dipped into the lower teens in early November, freezing the beets..

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This is the first time farmers in the Red River Valley have had to quit harvesting sugar beets because of freezing temperatures during harvest, growers for American Crystal Sugar Co. said Tuesday, Nov. 12.

“This is definitely one for the record books,” said Matthew Krueger, who farms near East Grand Forks, Minn. Krueger was unable to harvest about 450 acres of sugar beets, which represents more than 60% of his crop, he said.

“It probably would have been one of our biggest crops ever,” Krueger said. Now, instead of topping the sugar beets to prepare them for digging, he is preparing for the 2020 planting season by cutting off the tops so they can rot in the field. Then, Krueger hopes to plant a different crop and put 2019 behind him.

Farther south on the North Dakota side of the Red River, Jason Siegert, of Hillsboro, is shredding the sugar beet tops of more than 800 acres with a corn shredder. Siegert had to leave about 80 percent of the 1,050 acres he planted this spring because his fields were too wet to harvest before they froze.

“We’re going to leave them, and hopefully, winter and spring is good to us and we can plant something,” Siegert said. He’s not sure what he will plant in the fields next year, he said.

“It’s kind of all new ground. We’re trying to figure out what to do,” Siegert said.

Federal crop insurance will cover some of his losses, Siegert said. But Siegert, like the other farmers who couldn’t harvest their sugar beets, will have to pay American Crystal Sugar and for him, that will amount to roughly $280,000. Even with insurance, he will come out in the red this year on his beet acres, he said.

“That’s a tough pill to swallow,” Siegert said.

Krueger said crop insurance basically pays for part of what farmers could have harvested in a typical year, but it does not pay extra for fixed costs.

Neither Siegert nor Krueger are certain about how the reduction in the sugar beets American Crystal Sugar Co. receives will affect processing, but they speculated it will cut it short by at least a couple of months. Processing in the company's five factory districts usually is completed in May or June.

Schweitzer said American Crystal Sugar Co. is not answering any questions beyond verifying the halt of the harvest Nov. 9 and the amount of tons the company has received.

American Crystal Sugar Co. will hold factory district meetings in East Grand Forks, Hillsboro, Drayton, N.D., Crookston, Minn., and Moorhead next week.