RENVILLE, Minn. — A slow parade of trucks drove into the Clara City sugar beet station Friday, Nov. 1, to unload the tail end of a crop that has fallen far below average.
“The 2019 sugar beet crop has been a struggle from day one,” said Steve Domm, president of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville.
“There was not enough time for the sugar beet itself to put on the sugar content we usually see,” he said.
According to Domm, there is a 10 percent decrease from the average sugar production and a 10 percent decrease in tons per acre.
“It’s a dramatic decrease,” he said. “It’s a sub-average year.”
Fewer tons and less sugar means less money for the farmers, less money for the communities and “less money for everybody,” said Domm, who said he wonders if the average citizen realizes “the peril” that farmers are currently in.
The wet and cold weather that hampered planting in the spring carried through all summer and into the fall, resulting in muddy sugar beet fields and muddy beets.
“It was a big struggle to get the crop in and a big struggle to get it out,” Domm said. “They’ve been fighting rain and fighting cold temperatures.”
He praised the “tenacity” of farmers who have taken extreme measures to get the crop out, including using tractors to push trucks out of muddy fields.
“It’s been a battle,” he said.
At the piling station, the beets tumble over rubber rollers as they go up a conveyor belt and the mud that’s shaken off the beets falls through a screen and is collected in dump trucks and returned to the fields.
Lupe Delatorre and Robert Shubert, seasonal employees with the co-op, work 12-hour shifts in the cab of the massive conveyor system that builds pyramids of beets that are 28 feet tall.
They keep a steady eye on the computer monitors, the trucks driving up to load beets and the long boom that carries the beets from the unloading bin to the top of the pyramids.
The process “gets rid of the dirt and the mud and cleans the roots off a little bit,” said Shubert.
When harvest was at its peak last month, Shubert said there would be as many as 100 loaded trucks waiting in line to unload.
On Friday, there were at most one or two trucks waiting, indicating the harvest is drawing to a close.
Domm said, however, that “Mother Nature” will decide when it’s over for the year.
“When the ground gets too hard and we can’t pull beets out of the ground, then the end of harvest is near,” he said.
Because of the late harvest and a forecast that calls for nighttime temperatures in the teens, Domm said many fields will not be tilled this fall. He said that will put “farmers behind the eight ball” and cause even more problems for planting next spring.