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American Crystal accepts some frost-damaged beets

FARGO, N.D. -- With 89 percent of its planted acres safely harvested and piled, American Crystal Sugar Co. implemented a new "frost quota" on Nov. 1, allowing at least a small percentage of frost-damaged beets in the far north to be brought in.

Jeff Schweitzer, a spokesman for the Moorhead-based, farmer-owned sugar cooperative, said farmers will be able to deliver 1 ton per acre of frost-damaged beets that they planted in 2012. Schweitzer said he doesn't remember a policy of this sort being implemented before.

"The co-op will receive, segregate and process the frost-damaged beets," Schweitzer says. The company must guard against acquiring beets that have been partly frozen and have cell damage, as they likely will break down after they thaw.

Overall, beet harvest continues to grind ahead, with about 10.4 tons in the pile.

Schweitzer said the southernmost factory districts -- Moorhead and Hillsboro, N.D. -- have completed their harvest. East Grand Forks stood at 90 percent harvested on the morning of Nov. 1, Crookston at 93 percent, and Drayton, N.D., at 76 percent.

"We're making good progress," Schweitzer said. "We're running into some fields that are very wet, with heavier soil composition, and dealing with the healing of frost-damaged beets. Our staff is taking extra cautions, monitoring loads for frost-damaged beets."

Kelly Erickson, of Hallock, explained what the policy means on his farm, in an area of the north hit with unfavorable weather. The Ericksons planted about 1,020 acres of beets this year (the maximum -- about 88 percent of his preferred stock acres). So far, he has harvested and delivered about 770 acres, so he has about 250 acres left to harvest.

Rather than counting acres, the co-op controls the tons he delivers on the quota. The piling station told him his loads were measuring about 20 tons each, and calculated he could bring in another 52 loads. That's the equivalent of about 1,040 tons, or about 42 acres of beets 25 tons per acre.

Erickson said things have dried up since the earlier snows and rains during October. His beets were exposed to 19-degree nights recently, so tops have been frozen.

"But it's digging nice, to be honest with you," Erickson said. "We don't need 1 ton per acre, we need the whole crop. I hope they give us another shot at this, but I know they need to put a good, storable product in the pile. I know they're doing the best they can but on my end, we just want to haul beets."

Some growers will need to weigh the costs of harvesting a partial crop against what they otherwise would receive for crop insurance, but Erickson declined to discuss that, saying he is focused on the prospects for harvesting a crop he'd worked hard on through the entire season.