GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — American Crystal Sugar Co. is starting its preliminary harvest of the Red River Valley's new crop of sugar beets earlier than any time in the company's history, a spokesman said.

An early "pre-pile" harvest started Tuesday. It usually begins Sept. 1.

About 10 percent of the beet crop is harvested during the pre-pile harvest, which gives the company's five sugar processing factories enough raw material to get started. They are located in Crookston, East Grand Forks and Moorhead, Minn., and in Hillsboro and Drayton in North Dakota.

Company spokesman Jeff Schweitzer told the Grand Forks Herald ( ) the harvest start is the earliest since the sugar manufacturer became known as American Crystal Sugar Co. in 1934.

"The crop appears to be fairly strong right now," Schweitzer said. "It's why we were able to start so early."

The harvest is scheduled to go into full swing Oct. 1. It takes place in stages because sugar beets that are piled up, waiting to be processed, can spoil if the weather is too warm.

A dry spring allowed early planting of this year's crop; 90 percent of it was put in the ground in May.

The Red River Valley's growing area for sugar beets extends from the Canadian border to just south of Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn.

American Crystal is in the midst of a labor dispute. The company locked its employees out of its factories in August 2011 after attempts to negotiate a new contract failed. The cooperative, which is based in Moorhead, has been operating since then with replacement workers.


Information from: Grand Forks Herald,