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Dry weather speeds corn and bean harvest

The warm, dry weather of the past few weeks allowed the harvest of corn, soybeans, dry edible beans and sunflowers in North Dakota and Minnesota finally to move up to or ahead last week of the normal pace, after a season of behind-the-pace planti...

The warm, dry weather of the past few weeks allowed the harvest of corn, soybeans, dry edible beans and sunflowers in North Dakota and Minnesota finally to move up to or ahead last week of the normal pace, after a season of behind-the-pace planting and growing due to rain and flooding this spring.

Meanwhile, just as the full-on harvest of sugar beets began over the weekend in the Red River Valley, the same warm weather brought it to a quick halt.

American Crystal Sugar Co.'s growers have dug and delivered about 18 percent of the estimated 2011 crop of sugar beets, but harvest was curtailed Sunday because of the far-above normal temperatures, said company spokesman Jeff Schweitzer on Monday.

On Sunday, in fact, the Grand Forks International Airport reported a record high temperature for the date of 83, tying the previous record set in 1997 and 21 degrees above normal.

Last Wednesday, record highs temperatures also were set in Grand Forks and Fargo. The National Weather Service said it should remain dry and well-above-normal temperatures all week, although not much over 80 degrees.

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During the month of "pre-pile" harvest in September, about 900,000 tons of beets were dug by Crystal growers, enough to get the five factories up and running.

The full-on, or "stockpile," harvest began Saturday morning, but was halted at noon when the air temperatures got near 80 and beet root temperatures reached 55 degrees, too warm for long-term storage, Schweitzer said.

Early Sunday morning harvest resumed, but again was halted as the air temperature rose into the 80s.

With night-time temperatures falling only to the mid-50s into 60s, storage of beets in the large stockpiles with such heat would cause too much spoilage.

With a total of about 800,000 tons of beets dug over the weekend, beet growers have delivered about 1.7 million tons total so far.

Harvest won't begin again until temperatures fall to, well, fall-like levels.

"We are at the mercy of Mother Nature," Schweitzer said.

The factories, however, will continue operating, using beets already delivered and the contracted workers who replaced the union employees locked out by the Moorhead-based cooperative over a lack of agreement by Aug. 1 on a new contract.

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Schweitzer said no new negotiations have been scheduled.

The company is estimating per-acre yields will average about 21 tons, which is in line with long-term averages, but well below the past few years' average of about 25 tons per acre.

Sugar content of the beets is estimated at 17.5 percent, which is at the five-year average, Schweitzer said.

At these temperatures, the beets can continue to add some weight and sugar content, he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly crop progress report, which includes the three sugar beet cooperatives in the region, 13 percent of Minnesota's beets were harvested by Sunday, compared with 31 percent by now last year and 25 percent on average from 2006-1010 by Oct. 2.

North Dakota's beet growers had 15 percent of the crop dug by Sunday, compared with 34 percent by now last year and 24 percent in the five-year average.

The hot, dry weather has speeded up what has been a slow season for corn and beans and corn harvest began last week in North Dakota, with 1 percent of the crop combined by Sunday, near the five-year average pace of 3 percent by Oct. 2, according to USDA's ag statistics office in Fargo.

The report said 58 percent of North Dakota's corn crop was mature by Sunday, compared with the five-year average of 69 percent by Oct. 2 and 86 percent a year ago.

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Six percent of Minnesota's corn was combined by Sunday, a normal pace; 80 percent of the crop is mature, compared with 73 percent of the crop by Oct. 2 on average from 2006-2010.

The harvest of soybeans and dry edible beans moved ahead of the average pace in both states, with 43 percent of North Dakota's crop combined by Sunday, compared with the five-year average of 30 percent by Oct. 2.

Minnesota's farmers combined nearly a third of their soybean crop just last week, bringing the total harvested to 35 percent of the crop; that's ahead of the five-year average for the date of 29 percent harvested by Oct. 2.

More than two-thirds -- 68 percent -- of North Dakota' s dry edible beans were harvested by Sunday, ahead of the five-year average of 61 percent by the same date.

The dry edible bean crop in Minnesota was 77 percent harvested, right at the five-year average.

North Dakota's potatoes were 54 percent dug by Sunday, compared with the normal pace of 67 percent; 73 percent of Minnesota's spuds were dug, also at the five-year average pace of harvest.

Stephen J. Lee is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald,

which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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