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In Red River Valley, it's all hands on deck during sugar beet harvest

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An army may travel on its stomach, but sugar beets travel in trucks. Lots of them.

It's that time of year when beet trucks are beating a path between Red River Valley farms and piling sites.

A Grand Forks Herald feature story includes a look at some of the numbers associated with the harvest, and the observation that American Crystal has the whole thing orchestrated with a precision akin to a military operation.

The harvest relies on many temporary employees. The Herald talked to some drivers who moonlight from other jobs or spend vacation time to haul beets. On its website Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar says the co-op and its Montana subsidiary, Sidney Sugars, hire more than 1,300 seasonal workers to staff receiving stations.

Some of the figures from the Herald's piece:

- an average truck carries less than one acre's worth of beets. The same truck can carry 10 to 15 acres of wheat or soybeans, making sugar the Valley's least efficient harvest.

- the typical farm will put about 14,000 miles on its beet trucks, with about 10,000 vehicles involved in the harvest. Total miles driven during the Crystal harvest will reach about 500,000.

- 435,000 acres will yield about 10.4 million tons of beets. That's more than 23 tons per acre.

A Crystal spokesman also tells the paper that about 400 union workers were rehired earlier this year after a 22-month lockout ended. They join about 800 non-union employees in the co-op's five factories.

This year's round-the-clock harvest got off to a strong start on October 2nd - per American Crystal's instructions - and is more than half finished. But it was slowed last week by the wet weather, the Herald reported.

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Red River Valley gets earliest-ever start on sugar beet harvest

August 14th is the earliest start date on record for the preliminary sugar harvest, known as the "pre-pile" harvest. It usually starts in September. American Crystal Sugar reports this year's crop was in the ground early and looks like it'll be bigger than usual. The main harvest - the stockpile - will likely start at its customary time in October.