Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sugarbeet harvest in Cass County, from my perspective....

Back when my family visited, I promised to take video of the Red River Valley's sugarbeet harvest. When I told my co-worker John about their interest in the beets, he actually encouraged me to call one of our neighbors to see if they cared to have a 'tag-along'...............which they were happy to oblige.

(To view the videos, simply click on the words that appear discolored and underlined. It will take you to a secured link and you can click on each of the videos as they appear on the right).

In the first video (1) the footage shows the basics of the equipment used in the field which consists of 1 tractor with what they call the "topper" attached that goes through before the other implements and takes the forage top off the beet (this implement is not seen, because the tops were removed yesterday). Other other implements are mid-sized tractors, one pulling the lifter and the other with the cart. Each of the attachments, among other things, is equiped with a large conveyor that moves the beets from the lifter to the cart and then to the semi-truck.

The second set of videos shows how the lifter actually works. From what Josh, the driver, explained to me - the blades at the bottom of the lifter basically cut the ground on either side of the beet and then the beet is scooped up, thrown into the middle compartment where its shaken of the dirt and then conveyed up the belt. There is a small box in the cab of the tractor that controls the width and depth of the diggers - but some have to be adjusted manually. We figured that if there is a truck ready to be filled and we don't have to wait, it would only take about 5 minutes per pass in this field to lift.

This is what a sugarbeet looks like just prior to harvest.

Although it was only 41 degrees this morning when I left the house, all of the sugarbeet farmers had been shut down the last 4 days because the air temperature exceeded 65 degrees throughout the day. Once the air temp. goes over 65 degrees, the beet temperature increases and the beet - if harvested and piled - could start to "cook" for a lack of a better word. In the next video, you'll see how the beets are piled (and will remain piled all winter) - which gives you an indication of how detrimental hot-harvested beets could be if allowed to heat and ferment. They were hoping that the cold front that was moving across the country would keep the temperature down for the next 24 hours so they could make some progress before the weekend's projected storms rolled through.

There is a sugarbeet processing facility in Moorhead, MN which is only about 30 miles from this site - however, each acre of this sugarbeet ground (which I understand is typical) will produce about 22-23 tons (which is about 46,000 lbs). So.........a dual axle loaded truck is considered full a little less frequently than every acre. The farmer I rode with had been running 7 trucks prior to today and they couldn't keep up running loads to the piler that was 15 miles from the field. For that reason, there are localized "piler" sites.

The video you just watched was of the closest piler site for sugarbeet farmers in this area. Its the further most west site in Cass County because the soil topography changes and we move out of the "valley dirt" and into the Lake Agassiz shoreline that isn't as conducive to beets. There is alot of dry-land corn and beans produced in the area of the shoreline. I think I did mention that Cass County (where we live and work) produces the 2nd most acres of soybeans of any county in the entire country - there are alot of soybeans here.

BACK TO THE BEETS.......................................

I should also mention that the growers are bound to harvest limitations set forth by the sugar company they hold contracts with. Depending on the sugar content of the beet (which you could call yield) and the plant's capacity, the company will tell the growers they have to leave anywhere from 0-15% of their beets in the field and turn-them-under. If the sugar content drops or another location can process their beets, the company may "release" some more of the beets to be harvested - but the farmer cannot legally harvest and sell any beets on contract to another company without their consent (which rarely happens).

Many of the drivers are local men/women who actually take their vacation to drive beet truck or tractor. The piling stations typically have been opening up in the evening (about 8 p.m. last night) and open all night. When I got to the field this morning the boys had just switched shifts and the "day drivers" had taken over.

This afternoon I'm going back to the field to ride with the trucker for awhile, hopefully tomorrow I'll get a better video of the piler - I snuck up on my way to town - but its a hub-bub of activity and I didn't want to get to close in my personal vehicle.

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