It’s over, harvest is finally over. There is nothing quite like being done with beets. Most beet farmers would agree that beet harvest is perhaps the biggest undertaking on their farm. You just never know what is going to happen. The weather is always the biggest unknown, it may be to hot, to cold, to wet, it can also be to dry. Machinery may break, somebody usually does something dumb in the field, you never know what is going to happen during beets. This year was perhaps the strangest of years, sure some people did some dumb things, that is to be expected, but the unexpected happened this year, it didn’t rain.
The business end of the beet harvester.
One of the nice things about beets is that once they are in the pile we are done with them. We belong to the American Crystal Sugar Company Coop. The sugar company processes and markets the sugar for us. Marketing is usually the hardest thing a farmer has to do and it is nice to not have to do it with sugarbeets. Also, we don’t have to worry about storage.
Living along the Canadian border, we have a very distinct advantage with sugar beets. That would be storage. We pile them outside on the ground. The beet piles will freeze over winter keeping them fresh for processing. So while most people like a warm winter, I like it to be cold. I like the beets to freeze and store well so the company has a quality product from which to make sugar.
Sugar beet harvest started right on schedule this year, October 1. But that’s about the only normal thing about beets. The weather this year has been unseasonably warm, today we hit 78 degrees. Sugar beets are a peculiar thing, they like to be harvested when the root temperature is somewhere between freezing and about 65 degrees. If they are harvested outside of these parameters they will rot in storage. This year, our nighttime lows have been our normal daytime highs, or about 55 degrees and the daytime highs have been in the neighborhood of 70. This means we have been able to harvest nights but not days. My shift is the night shift, we run midnight to noon. With the warm temperatures, we have had to shut down at noon. So we’ve been effectively running at half speed. And now, we’ve been shutdown since Friday at noon.
While it has been frustrating to not be able to run full shifts, it is a blessing to not be wet. Rain and snow are our usual nemeses. In October, we don’t get a lot of sunshine, and, on average, even less heat. If it rains it takes a long time to dry out. When it is wet, we will start harvest as soon as you can physically move in the field. This means fighting mud, and that means not a lot of fun is had by anyone. Fortunately, we have been dry, trucks can run up and down the field at will and the harvesters have stayed relatively clean. Trust me, chipping mud out of a beet harvester is work, a lot of work.
As I said, we’ve been shutdown since Friday. The sugar company has announced that weather conditions should cool off by Tuesday night and we’ll be starting harvest at 8 pm on Tuesday. Our day shift will come out and run until midnight, and then we’ll be back at midnight. I called the night crew today and told them to show up tomorrow, get some sleep and ready to work at midnight tomorrow.
As things are going, we have about 5 shifts left, if we can run 24 hours we’ll be done in about 3 days. I’m anxious to get on with it, get the beets out of the ground and be done with harvest.