RENVILLE, Minn. — “Definitely a better crop than last year … more tonnage, better quality and we’re now into our 24-hour harvest schedule.” Those encouraging words came from Todd Geselius, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative agronomist in an Oct. 8 telephone chat.
Oct 8 was a bright, very windy day with southern breezes and temps in the 70’s. “We haven’t harvested as many beets as we normally would have at this point. But part of that is by design because we had such late planting; so we had to delay our pre-pile quite a few days. But I think we’re now on track.”
This year, growers planted about 123,500 acres of beets. The Co-op is expected to harvest right around 121,000 acres. The balance due to drown outs.
“Our sugar has been a little disappointing so far — similar to last year’s crop. We were around 14 percent, but haven’t harvested for almost a week now so hoping we’ll see a nice jump from here on in. On the plus side, our purity numbers look very good. Our biggest issue with the sugar is two-fold: excessive rain in September and the later-planted beets will likely have a lower sugar content. A beet plant has three phases: first they grow leaves; second they grow beets; and third they put sugar in the beets. But those June-planted beets are just getting to that third sugar-building phase. And that’s the risk of late planting … the beet plant simply runs out of sugar building days.”
At this stage, Geselius isn’t making any ‘wrap up’ campaign date as there are just too many weather variables still out there. “But growers are doing everything they can to get the beets lifted. We’ll get there, just a little later than we’d like to be.”
Are there any profits for growers this year? Geselius agreed it’s a great question, but still hard to predict. “Our tons per acre are looking better than we predicted. I’m thinking we’ll be somewhere between 25 and 25.5 tons. With some bump up in sugar content, we should be a break even crop this year. But we won’t know until final harvest.”
Geselius is concerned about potential soil damage due to the wet soils at harvest. “Our guys just won’t be able to do their logical fall tillage,” he said. “Yet if we dry out after this weekend, there’s no reason to believe these fields will be good next spring. Moisture during October and November is the determiner.”
The most difficult season in the Co-ops history? Geselius hedged a bit instead describing this as one of the more surprising seasons. “We planted a lot of beets in June,” he said. “Consensus was these June beets won’t amount of much … maybe 20 tons was the estimate. But we’re in the upper 20s on a lot of those June beets. Compared to last year, we’ll have a better crop this year. We’re getting some tons to work with and sugar is day-by-day improving. Last year we didn’t have tonnage; we didn’t have sugar.”