Beets sit in field

Water pools on a sugar beet field near Stephen, Minnesota.

MOORHEAD, Minn. (AP) – It’s been a bitter harvest for many Minnesota and North Dakota sugar-beet farmers. Almost a third of the crop in some parts of the two states is frozen into the fields where it’ll be left to rot. A wet October delayed the harvest until the weather turned too cold.

“This is far and away the worst (year) as far as beets left in the field,” said Dan Younggren, who has raised sugar beets near Hallock in far-northwestern Minnesota for about 40 years.

Minnesota is the largest sugar-beet-growing state in the nation; North Dakota is second. The two states account for 60 percent of U.S. sugar-beet production. Beets account for more than half of the sugar produced every year in the United States.

Insurance will cover only part of losses. The governors of Minnesota and North Dakota recently asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to issue disaster declarations for parts of their states affected by persistent bad weather this year.

Younggren was one of the 2,800 members of the Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar cooperative forced to leave beets in the ground. In his case it was 40 percent.

Growers told Minnesota Public Radio they took another blow in recent days when the co-op told them they must now pay $343 for every acre they couldn’t harvest. The money will help cover operating costs for the co-op’s five processing plants, replacing money that would have come from sugar sales. That extra hit will cost Younggren about $170,000 in addition to his other losses.

“We’re a co-op,” Younggren said. “Sometimes you thrive together; sometimes you suffer together … You have to share in the cost of keeping the company alive, so that’s the number they came up with; that’s the number we’ll live with.”

Growers in southwestern Minnesota, where the weather is warmer, were more fortunate.

“We actually harvested 99 percent of our crop,” said Todd Geselius, vice-president of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative near Renville, Minnesota.

Farmers there are still looking at their second-straight year of less-than-average payments. A wet spring delayed planting so the crop was less than average in both yield and sugar content. Those are key factors in how much farmers earn, he said.

“Chances are it’s not going to be a great year – certainly not good enough to make the kind of payment we would like to make to the growers,” he said.

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