American Crystal Sugar reports a record crop despite drought

Courtesy of American Crystal Sugar
Bags of Crystal Sugar for sale on the shelves of a Fargo, N.D., grocery store.
Ann Arbor Miller for MPR News

The farmers who grow sugar beets processed at American Crystal Sugar factories in northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota had a year for the record books.

“We had the best crop we’ve ever had,” said President and CEO Tom Astrup at the cooperative’s annual meeting Thursday in Fargo.

The 2023 crop set a record for yield, averaging nearly 32 tons per acre and posted the second highest sugar content on record.

“Everything kind of lined up this year and that’s the way agriculture works,” said Astrup. “Some years, it all lines up and it’s good. It’s positive. We’re blessed this year.”

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Despite drought conditions across the region, the deep-rooted sugar beet plants did well, and crop yield and quality also benefited from a warmer than normal fall.

“We had another six weeks of summer. Those are times where you expect temperatures in the sixties, fifties, forties,” said Astrup. “We were in the seventies and eighties, and we just benefited from a tremendously long growing season with a healthy plant population and just enough moisture.“

Sugar beet plants in a field
A partially harvested sugar beet field near Moorhead. The crop is typically harvested in October.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News file

Prices are up for sugar, molasses and beet pulp produced by the company, providing strong market conditions, said Astrup.  

The cooperative is forecasting a record payment to farmers of nearly $85 per ton. The final payment is calculated after the crop is processed.  

Astrup said while the forecast of a record payment to farmers is good news, it’s tempered by rising costs for growing and processing the crop.

“So, while it’s a record payment, I’m not sure it’s necessarily fair to compare it to a payment 10 years ago or 15 years ago,” he said.  

American Crystal Sugar, the largest sugar beet processor in the country, is marking its 50th anniversary this year.