With wet spring, American Crystal to add 10,000 beet acres

Mikkel Pates
Forum News Service

MOORHEAD, Minn. — In the face of the slow start to the growing season, American Crystal Sugar Co. is adding 10,000 acres of sugar beets to maximize the company’s processing capacity.

Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of agriculture for the farmer-owned co-op based in Moorhead, on May 22 said the increase temporarily equals 2.5 percent of total planted acres. The goal is to assure an adequate number of tons to run their five beet sugar processing facilities in the Red River Valley at full capacity.

Ingulsrud said the company’s average planting date will be May 9 — only four days later than the May 5 average for the co-op. “Four days later, but that does have an effect on yield,” he says. That figures a nearly 1 ton per acre theoretical yield reduction.

American Crystal is a closed farmer-owned cooperative. It has 498,500 shares that initially equated to one acre of production each. Because of increased yield in recent years, the co-op has limited its shareholders to planting a percentage of those shares. In 2019, shareholders are obligated to plant at least 73 percent of those shares but no more than 78.8 percent of acres represented by the shares.

Typically farmers planted “right up to the max,” or about 386,500 acres this year, Ingulsrud said. The company stood at 99.5 percent planted as of May 22.

About five years ago, the company had a similar late-, wet-planting situation and increased acreage.

“It can happen two years in a row; it’s totally dependent on weather,” Ingulsrud said.

The company for the first time is using what it calls its Targeted Acres Program.

Under TAP, members agree to sign up for a contingency program to increase acres if necessary. Producers must sign up by the end of March.

About 250 of the co-op’s 700 farms signed up for the program this year.

If enrolled in the program, shareholders are obligated to grow more beets if the company calls for it. Though it could mandate an extra 50,000 acres of beets, Crystal can decide to add a smaller amount — this year 10,000 acres. “We approved roughly 25 percent of what was signed up,” Ingulsrud said.

The TAP program doesn’t try to target those acres by factory district.

“We want to provide all of our shareholders with equal opportunity for these additional acres,” Ingulsrud said.

Shareholders who signed up for the TAP acres but are unable to plant because of planting conditions can transfer those acres to another grower who is able to plant.

Before TAP, the company increased the maximum allowable acres for all producers but managers didn’t really know how many acres growers would add. “It was a fairly imprecise method of increasing acres,” Insgulsrud said.

Sugar beets had emerged on May 22 in a field south of Moorhead, Minn. American Crystal Sugar Co. added another 10,000 acres to offset potential yield reductions due to a cold, late start.