Part 2 in a Three-Part Series
October 24, 2017
Like other farmers in Minnesota, Brian Ryberg is anxious to complete the full harvest season.
The area has had heavy rain this fall, including a recent deluge of 7 inches.
The rain has put Ryberg about 2 weeks behind on the farm he operates with his wife and two employees.
“Harvest is kind of the heyday of the year for us,” he says. “Everybody is always excited to get to harvest to see how the crops did this year. You know the hours are going to be there and our hired guys, they hang in there like troopers, and their families know that they are not going to see them very much. But everybody is happy to do their part crop to get the crop in.”
The deal, in Minnesota, includes working 12 to 16 hours shifts for weeks on end, staggered around the clock to give everyone access to the factory.
This year, Ryberg’s farm has the 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. sugarbeet harvest slot.
He also grows corn and soybeans, and the early part of the day will be spent harvesting those crops.
It can go on like this for 6 weeks.
The other part of the deal in Minnesota, and other northern climates, is a delicate dance with winter. Sugarbeets grow larger, and have more sugar output, the longer they stay in the ground.
But freezing temperatures can be disastrous for the beets, so Ryberg and others start the full harvest, which is a 24-7 operation, around the first week of October and try to finish by Oct. 25.
He’s hoping for a mild November, similar to ones in recent years, to give him time to make up ground lost by the recent rains. But in Minnesota, there are no guarantees when it comes to winter.
When Ryberg started harvesting sugarbeets in high school, he used a four-row machine that could handle 300 acres at a time. Now he runs a GPS-guided 12-row harvester that can pull beets from 1,200 acres in the same amount of time.
“Everything has gotten bigger and faster,” he says.
And more expensive, which makes today’s low and stagnant sugar prices all the more challenging.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), wholesale sugar prices have hovered below 30 cents per pound for most of the past year – right around the same price producers saw in the 1980s.
In addition to keeping a watchful eye on the markets, Ryberg and his colleagues will be watching something else closely this fall: The debate over the 2018 Farm Bill.
The bill outlines America’s no-cost sugar policy, which is based on loans that producers repay with interest.
While the policy has historically cost taxpayers nothing, it has been essential to helping sugar producers with inventory and to cash-flow operations as they market their product.
Ryberg, a father of six, will be spending the next few weeks working through the middle of the night to harvest his sugarbeets. He hopes his hard work will pay off and that lawmakers will appreciate the good value U.S. policy has provided to consumers.
“I hope they educate themselves on our cost of production and the current price environment,” he says. “The sugar cooperative my farm belongs to is one of the lowest cost producers in the world, and it’s still a challenge right now.”
He also hopes Congress will realize sugarbeet farmers must compete against highly-subsidized foreign industries that are backed by billions in government subsidies.