Area grower cites unique struggles of this harvest, while company says it remains confident weather will improve and as many sugar beets will be harvested as possible
The current situation playing out regarding American Crystal Sugar and its 2019 sugar beet harvest in the Red River Valley is a “very serious situation for the co-op and its members,” an area grower and member of the sugar cooperative tells the Times.
Jon Ross commented on a Facebook Live video posted by the Times on Saturday, one of the first sunny and breezy days to hit the region in a while, and a day that farmers hit their sugar beet fields with a vengeance, trying to get as many sugar beets lifted, sliced and pulled out of the muddy, swamped ground as they could. In many fields, tractors equipped with tracks instead of tires filled an especially critical role, as they pulled one truck loaded with sugar beets through the mud and out of the fields and onto the road, where the trucks then drove to the closes American Crystal processing factory. The scene was repeated on Sunday, as growers knew the forecast for Monday called for potentially more significant rains.
Ross partners with Mike Bergeron at R & B Growers. The field the Times’ Facebook Live video captured them in Saturday showed standing water and deep tire and track ruts in the field between Crookston and Fisher along U.S. Highway 2, but Ross said that was actually one of their driest fields. Land they own in Nesbit Township to the north is much wetter, he said.
“This year is unique in that such a large area of the valley is so wet,” Ross noted.
Growers are in a tough spot, he explained.
Here’s the situation, Ross said:
“Crystal plans to receive between 10 an 12 million tons each year. The management tells us that it takes about four million tons to ‘break even.’ That means if only four million tons are delivered the company could pay its fixed costs but there would be no payment to shareholders. So it is vital that everyone deliver what they possibly can for the good of all shareholders.
“The rub is that in some cases, like what you saw yesterday happening in our field, what is good for all may not be in my personal best interest. The tons we were able to harvest from that field go against my crop insurance production guarantee,” Ross continued. “In short I may receive less money from the beet payment on that field than if I just filed an insurance claim. Crop insurance for sugar beets is based on a grower’s acres in each section. There is no provision for splitting fields by contract in each section. This would really be an incentive for farmers to harvest what they are able to get out of each field and help the co-op. Crop insurance is federally run, so getting changes, much less policy changes in time to help this year are slim.”
The Times reached out to Jeff Schweitzer, communications and public relations director for American Crystal, but hadn’t heard back by press time on Monday. The latest harvest update on the Crystal website, from Oct. 15, stated the following:
“Mother Nature has dealt the shareholders of American Crystal Sugar Company some significant challenges as it relates to the 2019 sugarbeet harvest. As of October 15, harvest of the 2019 crop is about 33% complete. Persistent and wide-spread moisture events have made field conditions for lifting sugarbeets extremely difficult. While this situation appears ominous, the cooperative has faced these challenges before and it remains optimistic that the weather conditions will improve and permit most shareholders to resume harvest. As a point of reference, sugarbeets were harvested well into November in 2018. American Crystal receiving sites are prepared to receive sugarbeet deliveries when and for however long it is possible.
American Crystal sugarbeet growers are some of the most resilient and hardworking of any in the country. The Cooperative’s expectation is that shareholders will do whatever is reasonably possible to complete their harvest.”