By Tom Collins
Sugar beet growers are experiencing lower yields than normal, but the sugar content should make up for it.
Sugar beet growers had seen record or near-record yields in four out of five years from 2012-2016. Last year, growers yielded about 32 short tons per acre, and this year’s crop will be about one-to-two tonnes per acre less, said Mark Lumley, chair of the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers’ Association (OSGA), a co-op for Ontario growers. However, those estimates were on Oct. 30 when only 25 to 30 per cent of the crop was harvested. Final numbers won’t be available until the middle of November when harvest wraps up.
“We’ll probably end up with the same amount of actual sugar,” said Lumley. “The quality is better too, so it’s easier to extract.”
About five years ago, farmers were getting about $50 per short ton. Now it’s down to about $32 per short ton, due to Mexico dumping sugar into the U.S. market, Lumley said.
All 80 Ontario farmers growing 10,000 acres of sugar beets have contracts with the Michigan Sugar Company, which turns the beets into white sugar. About 6,000 acres are grown in Chatham-Kent and another 3,500 in Lambton.
The OSGA is examining building a sugar beet plant in Sarnia to expand the acreage. Lumley said sugar samples have been sent to three potential customers. If one of them is interested, funding for the more than $100 million plant would be raised. About 50 per cent of the money would come from growers, who would put up shares in their acres. The rest of the money would be through debt financing.
Lumley hopes the plant would be ready by 2020, and 30,000 new acres would grow sugar beets in counties as far north as Huron and Perth. The current 10,000 acres that currently grow for Michigan Sugar Company would not be affected.