Crookston factory should start running Thursday, other factories, too.

MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) — American Crystal Sugar Co.’s early beet harvest began Tuesday, earlier than ever because the crop appears to be bigger than ever.
    During the ‘‘pre-pile’’ harvest, growers get just enough beets out of the ground to get Crystal’s five processing plants in the Red River Valley running. It typically begins Sept. 1, with the full harvest beginning Oct. 1.
    ‘‘The 17th (of August) is the earliest we have ever started,’’ said Dan Bernhardson, the director of agriculture for the farmer cooperative that grows more sugar beets than any other operation in the nation.
    The factories were to begin running Thursday. Minnesota plants are in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Moorhead, where the co-op is based, and North Dakota factories are in Hillsboro and Drayton.
    An early spring planting and an ideal growing season have led to a crop expected to set a record for yield.
    ‘‘The crop is definitely mature enough to begin lifting operations and begin processing,’’ co-op spokesman Jeff Schweitzer said Tuesday. The processing campaign lasts into May.
    Schweitzer and Bernhardson said the 2008 record of 25.4 tons per acre might be eclipsed this year by two to three tons.