Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Beet harvest wraps up

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:04 PM

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BARNEY, N.D. — Russ Mauch of Barney is breathing a sigh of relief.

Mauch, a shareholder-grower for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, finished harvest of his 1,100 sugar beet acres. Harvest on the remaining Minn-Dak growers' acres was nearing completion by the weekend.

The sugar beet pre-harvest for Minn-Dak started in September with full harvest beginning in October. Compared to recent wet harvests, the dry fall was welcomed. Dry weather made it easy to lift beets and move trucks. When it's wet, the trucks, with chains attached to the front, are pulled through fields, loaded with beets and then pulled back onto roads. There were only a few days when Minn-Dak called a halt to harvest due to warm weather or freezing temperatures.

While the cooperative's total yield and beet sugar content isn't known yet, Mauch knows beet yields were good.

He averaged 27 tons per acre. At $65 a ton, that equals a return of $2,000 an acre.

"It's our priority crop," he said. "We spend the time caring for the beets."

The Mauch family's involvement with Minn-Dak started when his father, Bernard, and brother Randy purchased stock when the cooperative opened in 1973. Russ purchased his shares in 1978. One share costs $5,000 with farmers able to plant 1.60 acres per share, he said.

Sugar beets are grown on 1,100 of RCMJV's 8,000 acres. The farm also raises 6,400 acres of corn and 400 acres of soybeans, Russ said. They also dry sunflowers for Sun Opta. Farms from Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Saskatchewan, Canada haul sunflowers to the farm. Russ monitors the drying process amidst all the farm activity.

A decade or more ago, migrant workers hoed weeds in the beet fields, but herbicides now take care of the problem. It's easier and a more efficient way to deal with the weeds.

Mauch is fortunate to have a steady driving crew. A group from southeastern Minnesota, including his two nephews, return each year to drive the semis loaded with beets to Minn-Dak. The 70 mile round-trip that is made six to seven times per driver each 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift.

Other growers aren't as fortunate. Many drivers have left seasonal beet hauling for full-time jobs in western North Dakota's oilfields. Some farmers who've left sugar beets have cited lack of drivers as the reason for their decision.

Russ is a past president of the American Sugar Beet Association and has been involved in farm bill discussions in Washington, D.C. The sugar program doesn't cost the government money, but does set limits on sugar imports and production. Of the sugar used in the United States, 85 percent is domestically raised with the rest imported.

Some farm groups would like the sugar program abolished and would like more sugar imported from Central and South American countries, Russ said.