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Published August 20, 2012, 10:49 AM

Jump start

American Crystal Sugar Co. shareholders started their pre-pile harvest on Aug. 14.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — American Crystal Sugar Co. shareholders started their pre-pile harvest on Aug. 14.

Jeff Schweitzer, the company’s public relations manager, says the Aug. 14 start is the earliest in the company’s history, well before the traditional start for pre-pile harvest of Sept. 1. The company has started pre-pile operations in the third week in August only a few times in the past five years.

“We anticipate that we’re going to have a larger crop than last year, estimating it at somewhere above 25 tons an acre for an average,” Schweitzer says.

He says 90 percent of the crop was planted in early May. “The growing season, for the most part, has been pretty solid. We’ve gotten timely rains in the northern tier of the Red River Valley.” In 2011, the cooperative’s crop wasn’t completely planted until early June.

An early harvest will mean the co-op will have to deal with heat, making sure it doesn’t have more than a four-day supply on hand. “It’s a delicate balance, but one that we’ve had to go through in the past,” Schweitzer says. “Our ag department is well-versed on how to bring in the beets and care for them while they’re getting ready to be processed. Shareholders are no strangers to bringing in some beets in warm weather.”

The pre-pile harvest typically brings in 10 percent of the crop. The full-scale harvest is scheduled to start on its traditional Oct. 1 timeframe.

“This may extend the pre-pile by a couple of weeks,” Schweitzer says. “As crops have gotten bigger, we have advanced that into August.” It’s difficult to say whether the pre-pile will account for more than the 10 percent because that depends on how the total crop turns out.

Schweitzer says the early harvest is not related to the company’s new factory staff because of a lock-out of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, since Aug. 1, 2011. The company has hired replacement workers.

Schweitzer confirms that this year’s harvest will be managed by Cory Kritzberger, who was named Crystal’s director of agriculture about a month ago. Dan Bernhardson, who had held that post, was promoted to head Crystal’s Technical Services Center.

Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D., also started its pre-pile harvest on Aug. 14.