beet harvest 2019

Sugar beets await snow under cloudy skies at the Fairview receiving station. About 90,000 beets came out of fields Monday and Tuesday. That’s enough to begin the slice, and continue it until the rest can be harvested.

A large portion of durum wheat is still in the field even as a likely season-ending storm for many agricultural commodities approaches the MonDak region.

The latest USDA Crop Progress Report shows 64 percent of the durum harvest in Montana complete, well behind last year’s 95 percent. North Dakota’s durum harvest, meanwhile, is pegged at 79 percent. Northeastern Montana and northwestern North Dakota are where most durum is grown.

Some of the region’s farmers are questioning the harvest statistics that USDA puts out. What they see in the fields throughout the durum region looks as though a lot less wheat has been harvested than the report suggests.

“I don’t believe that number,” said Tom Wheeler, a farmer in northwestern North Dakota. “I would believe that 30 percent has been harvested and that there is 70 percent left to take off.”

Wheeler said he himself was unable to harvest any of his durum before the big rains came in mid to late August, which sank the hopes of most durum farmers for a good crop year.

“Our durum, we got zero percent of that off before the rain,” Wheeler said. “It was too green when it started raining. The same for spring wheat. It was too green, so that is fine, let it rain, but then the rain continued and continued.”

Wheeler estimated he’s taken off a mere 25 percent or so of his durum crop from the field, and 5 percent or so of the spring wheat. All of it was feed quality.

Likewise, Brian Kaae, farming in northeastern Montana, said he was able to harvest about 5 percent of his durum crop before the rains started, or about 50 acres.

“It was probably the nicest durum I’ve ever cut in my life,” he said. “But everything since that rain has more sprout damage. It will be feed wheat. It won’t go into milling channels, and I’m not alone in that.”

Overall, about 25 percent of Kaae’s durum is in.

Kaae also grew lentils, which he was able to harvest before rain could cause too many sprouting issues. The quality of some fields was good, but some, with potholes where water could collect, were a mixed bag.

Ryan Ellis, like Wheeler, grew a little of everything this year, including some durum, along with oats, green peas, canola, flax, lentils and soybeans.

“I’m in the same boat as everyone on the wheat side,’ he said. “We had cut about half our durum before the rain.”

He too, was able to get his lentils in before the rain. His canola harvest had some sprouting, but not enough to hurt the three loads he took to the elevator to sell.

Meanwhile, farmers in the Sidney, Montana region were busy Monday and Tuesday pulling beets from the ground as fast as possible. Sidney Sugars General Manager David Garland said close to 90,000 pounds of beets came off the fields in that time, until harvest was stopped Wednesday morning, Oct. 9.

“Right now, the factory is sitting well,” he said. “We have enough beets to begin slice and to continue until growers can begin harvest again.”

Garland said the hope is that most of the storm will miss the Sidney region. Forecasts do show the brunt of the storm well east of Williston, but nonetheless the forecast is calling for between 3 to 5 inches of snow.

“It’s more the moisture that we don’t need,” he said. “It will probably delay harvest again.”

Garland said the year has been unusual as far as the amount of moisture. Year-to-date precipitation figures show almost 7 inches more than normal throughout the MonDak region.

“It’s obviously delayed us,” Garland said. “We wanted to start Sept. 26, and we are looking at Oct. 10 as a start. That part of it has been unusual, but once we get going, I believe looking forward that the weather will continue on and we will be able to get everything accomplished.”

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