The summer’s strange weather is resulting in a sugar beet crop that is OK on tonnage but low on sugar content.
Ray VanDriessche, director of community and government relations for Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City, said the estimate for the 2016 crop is about 30 tons per acre, but “sugar content is very low, the lowest we’ve seen it in a number of years.
“That has a huge impact when your sugar content is low,” he said.
He said the sugar content is about 15 percent or a little higher.
“We’d like to see that about 17½, 18 percent,” he said. “There are years where we have averaged 18½ percent sugar so we’re down.”
Michigan Sugar Company is a grower-owned cooperative consisting of about 1,100 farmers mostly in Michigan, but with some in Ontario. The cooperative has factories in Croswell, Bay City, Caro and Sebewaing.
According to company data, Michigan Sugar has a direct economic impact of about $600 million with an indirect economic impact of about $1.25 billion in the state. The company has 890 year-round employees and 1,460 seasonal employees.
VanDriessche said a dry spring cost beets their early growth.
“We had a long dry spell in late spring and throughout maybe half the summer, so those beets sat dormant for a long time,” he said.
When the rains came in August, the beets shifted into growth mode, he said, but they were putting their energy into producing leaves and roots instead of storing sugar.
“Because that growth mode is delayed, we don’t see the mature beet we normally start to see this time of the year,” VanDriessche said. “When that beet matures it starts to store sugar. We believe that maturity process was delayed by that long dry period and drought.”
Less sugar content means less sugar processed and that affects what farmers can bank from their crop.
“It will impact the payment, there’s no doubt about it,” VanDriessche said.
He said this year’s crop also was affected by a fungal disease called cercospora leaf spot.
“The growers do a good job of staying on top of it, but was pretty pervasive this year,” VanDriessche said.
Warm weather also is playing a role in the beet processing campaign. Until Monday, Michigan Sugar Company plants and piling stations had been accepting beets only as needed.
Now, VanDriessche said, “growers can bring in beets at their will. Prior to this it was what we called early delivery. …
“What the deal is, prior to this we thought the temperatures were not cool enough to put them in piles until we could get them sliced.
“The weather is cool enough that we believe they will store well throughout the campaign.”