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Crystal: Beet campaign so far so much better

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    Compared to the soggy, sloppy, historically bad 2019 harvest in which many acres of sugar beets had to be left in the field, indications so far are that the 2020 American Crystal Sugar campaign is going to be much, much better.

    Even though it’s only in the pre-pile phase now – in which a small percentage of sugar beets are harvested and hauled to Crystal’s five factories in order to get processing equipment up and running – Crookston Factory Manager Ryan Wall said the weather is the most important factor right now, and, so far, the difference between 2019 and 2020 is night and day.

    “So far the weather has been extremely favorable,” Wall said at Tuesday’s CHEDA Board of Directors meeting at Valley Technology Park. Wall was invited to the meeting to update board members on the harvest.

    The full campaign is slated to get started at midnight on Oct. 1, but Wall left open the possibility that it could get underway a couple days prior to that.

    “The crop looks good at this point,” he said. “Hopefully the weather holds and we have a nice, dry harvest.”

    As for tonnage, sugar content and payments to grower-members of the cooperative, those are things that will be detailed later.

New extraction plant

    Wall said if people passing by the Crookston American Crystal factory notice the lit-up American flag high up on the south side of the factory, that is where the new, multimillion dollar extraction plan is located. After several months, the plant is complete, he said.

Staffing struggles

    Prompted by Hoiseth, Wall said Crystal is short on staff, around 20 to 30 people in all.

    Crystal typically employs 280 to 300 staff. Wall cited enhanced unemployment benefits from the CARES Act during the COVID-19 pandemic as a contributing factor to Crystal’s difficulty in maintaining adequate staffing levels.

    “The unemployment benefits were not beneficial to us,” he said. “We lost some people over the summer and it slowed down applications coming through the door.”

    Crystal is getting by by utilizing contractors coming out of Fargo.

    It looks like Crystal will be able to fully staff its piling stations, Wall said. The hauling campaign typically brings in a lot of workers via RVs who drive up from the south and that’s the case again this year, he explained. And Express Personnel is once again helping out with temporary staff.