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Sugarbeet tonnage hits record in Red River ValleySugarbeet tonnage hits record in Red River Valley

Despite a bumpy start to growing season, harvest yields beets with quality sugar content.

Sarah McNaughton

November 14, 2023

2 Min Read
mature sugarbeet in the field
Bumper crop: Due to the successful harvest, some sugarbeets had to be left in the field because processing plants were already at maximum capacity. Matauw/Getty Images

A growing season that started with mixed moisture conditions in the Red River Valley ended with a high-quality sugarbeet crop. Harrison Weber, executive director of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, says the start of the season left growers unsure about the outcome.

“We had a cool and damp start, and were delayed with planting this spring,” he explains. “It was dry all summer. Growers either managed to get timely rains or had adequate subsoil moisture already.”

During pre-pile, Weber says they were pleasantly surprised with how good the crop looked. “The beets responded to some of those rains, and we had great sugar, great tonnage — even to the point where we left beets in the ground.”

Plants hit max capacity

As a perishable commodity, sugarbeet harvest can only occur within a limited time — and there can only be as many beets as the processing plants can handle. “It’s disappointing as a grower to leave beets in the ground, but that means that we as a cooperative are maximizing our factories to 100% utilization,” he says.

For the 7% to 9% of acres left in the ground, Weber says growers will top the beets and then cultivate the field in the spring prior to planting. “The ground deteriorates those beets much quicker than they would on top of the soil, so in the spring, there will be basically nothing left.”

The sugarbeet harvest in the valley started full time at the beginning of October, after a slight rain delay. “We had a few rainstorms in the beginning of October,” Weber says.

Even with the delayed start, sugarbeet harvest officially wrapped up on Oct. 23. “Our start was later than traditional but not late by any means,” he says. “Once growers got started, there was 10 straight days of rocking and rolling, and things wrapped up quickly.”

The 2023 sugarbeet crop averaged 18.4% sugar content and a record volume of 12.7 million tons. Sugarbeet growers will turn next to policy work. “Now that we’re done with harvest, we’re shifting gears towards watching the next farm bill,” Weber says. “Our ultimate goal is to continue to provide a safe, reliable and affordable product to U.S. consumers at zero cost to the taxpayer.”

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About the Author(s)

Sarah McNaughton

Editor, Dakota Farmer, Farm Progress

Sarah McNaughton of Bismarck, N.D., has been editor of Dakota Farmer since 2021. Before working at Farm Progress, she was an NDSU 4-H Extension agent in Cass County, N.D. Prior to that, she was a farm and ranch reporter at KFGO Radio in Fargo.

McNaughton is a graduate of North Dakota State University, with a bachelor’s degree in ag communications and a master’s in Extension education and youth development.

She is involved in agriculture in both her professional and personal life, as a member of North Dakota Agri-Women, Agriculture Communicators Network Sigma Alpha Professional Agriculture Sorority Alumni and Professional Women in Agri-business. As a life-long 4-H’er, she is a regular volunteer for North Dakota 4-H programs and events.

In her free time, she is an avid backpacker and hiker, and can be found most summer weekends at rodeos around the Midwest.

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