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Sugar beet loss could hit $12 million

Ray Johnson is an eternal optimist. The Clay County farmer considered himself lucky last week when a killing frost destroyed 330 acres of his young sugar beet crop. "It's tough, but it could have been the whole crop," Johnson said Wed...

Ray Johnson is an eternal optimist.

The Clay County farmer considered himself lucky last week when a killing frost destroyed 330 acres of his young sugar beet crop.

"It's tough, but it could have been the whole crop," Johnson said Wednesday. "I could be reseeding all 1,000 acres.

"In this business that's the way you have to look at," said Johnson, who farms about 10 miles northeast of Moorhead.

The 42-year-old farmer said he's been too busy reseeding to figure out what the killing frost will cost him. Crop insurance will cover about half of his losses, he said.

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Johnson is one of hundreds of farmers in the Red River Valley who lost sugar beets to a killing frost in the early morning hours Friday.

The temperature dipped into the mid-20s, killing about 61,000 acres of sugar beets planted by American Crystal Sugar Cooperative members -- about 13 percent of the co-op's crop, said Allan Cattanach, an American Crystal agronomist.

"Anytime you have beets in the ground for a month and then have to replant them it's frustrating," Cattanach said. "It always tests your resolve."

Sugar beet seed costs farmers about $42 per acre. Beet farmers in the Red River Valley spend another $12 per acre planting their crops, said Dwight Aakre, a farm management specialist at North Dakota State University.

Accordingly, it cost area farmers about $3 million to plant the beets destroyed by last week's frost and another

$3 million to replant.

The farmers will also lose out during harvest because the later-planted beets are sure to yield less sugar, Cattanach said.

Sugar beets planted after the first week of May lose optimum growing days. The potential yield loss is as much as $200 per acre, he said.

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Multiplied by total acres lost, farmers could lose as much as $12 million because of lower yields on this year's crops.

Most of the region's farmers have insurance that will cover some of the losses, Cattanach said.

Sugar beet growers in the southern Red River Valley largely escaped the freeze, said Patricia Keough-Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Wahpeton-based Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative.

Minn-Dak farmers lost only 100 acres of beets to frost, she said.

Most farmers hurt by the frost finished replanting their fields by Wednesday, Cattanach said.

Not since 1988 have American Crystal shareholders replanted such a large number of acres, he said.

That year, frost and high winds destroyed nearly half of the sugar beet crops grown by American Crystal, Minn-Dak and Southern Minnesota Beet Growers in Renville, Minn., Cattanach said.

Since 1988 and until now, American Crystal shareholders have replanted an average of about 2 percent of their crop every year, he said.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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