By Tom Collins
CHATHAM —Sugar beet growers were experiencing average yields and lower-than-normal sugar content by the end of October, said the chair of the Ontario Sugarbeet Growers’ Association (OSGA), a co-op for Ontario growers.
Growers are averaging about 30 to 32 short tons per acre, with harvest about 60-70 per cent completed as of Halloween, said Rob McKerrall. There are about 80 Ontario farmers growing 10,000 acres of sugar beets, mostly in the Chatham-Kent and Lambton areas. All the growers have contracts with the Michigan Sugar Company, which turns the beets into white sugar.
McKerrall said the sugar content is typically lower early on, but as the sugar beets mature and weather cools throughout the fall, the sugar content usually increases. While this year’s weather has been right for an increase in sugar content, it’s just not happening.
McKerrall is stumped as to why sugar content is down, but says it’s affecting the entire Ontario and Michigan sugar beet industry.
“That’s the only real drawback this year,” he said. “It seems to affecting everybody.”
While yields are neutral and sugar content is down, there is some good news as the price of sugar beets is slowly increasing. Ontario sugar beet growers are part of a co-op, so they don’t receive payment for sugar beets until almost a year after harvest, once the crop has been turned into sugar and sold. This year, farmers received US $42 per short ton for last year’s crop. Estimates has this year’s crop to be in the US mid-$40s.
The organization is still looking into building a sugar beet plant in Sarnia to expand the acreage, said McKerrall, adding that the OSGA is still waiting for research from Lambton College to be released before deciding on the next step. The 10,000 acres that currently go to the Michigan Sugar Company would not be affected.
“An alternative market is always a good thing,” said McKerrall. “The more acres you can steer away from corn and beans to diversify is always a plus.”