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FARGO — There were days in October when Tom Astrup didn’t know how the 2018 sugar beet harvest in the Red River Valley was going to end up. Unprecedented cold nights, rainy days and inches of snow were hurting the ability to get beets out of the field and could have ruined much of the crop.
“I can tell you, I was pessimistic,” Astrup, president and CEO of American Crystal Sugar, said during his speech Thursday, Dec. 6, to the Joint Annual Meeting of American Crystal Sugar Company and the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.
The next week’s weather was critical in getting out what Astrup called a “pretty darn good 2018 crop.” Still, the crop didn’t approach the two prior years’ crops, and 2,200 acres out of 390,000 planted didn’t get pulled out of the ground.
“It’s painful for those who had to leave them behind,” he said.
Yields for 2018 were 28.9 tons per acre, compared to 30.2 tons per acre in 2017, which was second only to 2016’s record crop. Sugar content for 2018 is expected to be 18.14 percent, comparable both to 2017 and the historical average.
Astrup explained that the sugar content and yield were lower than looked possible during the summer. But a cool September, along with the stress of the October cold, rain and snow, seem likely to have capped the beets’ potential. Astrup said really cold weather now, which would allow the beets to freeze and keep the company processing into May, would help the prospects.
Matt Wineinger, president of United Sugars Corp., spoke about what his company does, explaining that United Sugars’ purpose is to “Sell it high! Sell it all!” American Crystal Sugar is one of four companies that work with United Sugars Corp. to sell sugar.
Wineinger showed a heat map of where United Sugars’ products go, with a oval stretching across much of the Midwest and into Florida. Chicago is the main focus, Wineinger said, explaining that the company’s “sugar dome” in the Windy City plays a part in that. Chicago, he said, is the top metropolitan sugar market, and having a strong presence there is good for business.
Astrup, meeting later with media, concurred, saying it’s cost-effective to ship to Chicago.
“It’s just an arrangement our customers have found much to their liking.”
Astrup also touched briefly on the new Big Sky Sugar Cooperative that have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to purchase American Crystal Sugar’s Sidney, Mont., processing facility. While negotiations have a long way to go, Astrup said he is hoping the deal can be closed before spring planting.
Astrup said the growers in Sidney have not been part of American Crystal Sugar and have instead been contract growers who negotiate prices with the cooperative. Forming their own cooperative and owning the Sidney facility would be a positive step for growers there and for the community of Sidney, Asrup said.
“It’s a good plant,” he said. “I think it’s got a great future.”
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December 7, 2018 at 09:19AM