HILLSBORO, N.D. — Hundreds of acres of sugar beets are going to waste on a Traill County man's farm, and now he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to the American Crystal Sugar Company.

Since the day he was born, Jason Seigert could see the sugar beet plant his family always delivered to looming above the farmland. In his 40 years of farming full-time, he's never had a beet harvest worse than this. The problems started in 2018, and then things got a lot worse when this year's wet fall started saturating his land.

"We've seen it wet, but we've never seen anything like this. Nothing," he said. "I've never buried my beet lifter as bad as I did this year. We had two four-wheel drives on it pulling it out."

Video captured by the farmer shows equipment moving through flooded fields that looked more like lakes. One picture shows a wheel stuck in fat wads of wet dirt.

The heavy, thick soil, while great for growing, can become a sloppy mess when equipment has to venture into wet fields. Pictured is one such piece of equipment, its whee' buried under mounds of heavy mud. Submitted photo
The heavy, thick soil, while great for growing, can become a sloppy mess when equipment has to venture into wet fields. Pictured is one such piece of equipment, its whee' buried under mounds of heavy mud. Submitted photo

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"After a while, you got numb, everything was stuck," he said. "You just got up in the morning and prayed that you didn't get stuck, and hope for the best. So it was tough."

The vast majority of his beets are frozen in the dirt and won't ever get harvested. Seigert said it's a year's worth of work now gone to waste. His farm has been shredding up the beets all week.

They were only able to harvest 12% of the beets they planted this year, so that means the other 88% are getting shredded to prepare the fields for next season. Since the beets are frozen, they're hard as rocks. Seigert said that's been really hard on the equipment, with one of his shredders breaking down Wednesday morning.

Now American Crystal Sugar needs $343 dollars for every acre of unharvested beets. For Seigert, that's roughly $280,000 he has to pay back. They're still working things out with the insurance companies. He said his three-generation family farm has never had a year worse than this.

"What are we going to do for the youth, and how do we keep them here? That's a tough deal," he said. "When we can figure that out, then we'll be okay. But we have to figure out how to keep these youth here because the aging population of the farmers in North Dakota is getting older all the time. We don't need that. We need young people."

Younger farmers go to Seigert for help, asking how to deal with the bad season. Since this hasn't ever happened to his family, even he doesn't know. For now, his family is getting the fields ready for next year, and moving forward with the life he knows and still loves.

"It'll get better," Seigert said. "Pray for a stronger back."