Record sugar beet crop challenging for factory

TABER, Alta. — There is sweetness all over this southern Alberta town because storage for sugar and thick juice from the 2016 sugar beet crop is at a premium.

The Lantic (Rogers) Sugar factory in Taber had to find extra storage space and slow down the processing of last year’s crop at the end of November when buyers were slow to take contracted product.

Andrew Llewelyn-Jones, general manager of the factory, said temporarily throttling back production was “not a decision of our choosing but one that was necessary.”

He told those at the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers annual meeting Feb. 8 that the plant is now running at speed and shipments to both Coca Cola and Mexican food distributor Novamex are catching up to plans.

The latter company was supposed to be accepting six rail cars of sugar per week and is still 20 to 30 cars behind the planned delivery schedule, Llewelyn-Jones said.

ASBG president Arnie Bergen Henengouwen said dealing with a big crop is a good problem to have.

“(Lantic) has given us assurances that all the sugar is sold, it’s got a home. It’s just a matter of moving it in an orderly fashion.”

Growers delivered plenty of sweetness to the factory this year.

“When harvest was concluded on Nov. 10, the overall average yield on the 28,648 acres harvested was a record 28.68 tonnes per acre with 19.31 percent sugar, 17.8 percent extractable, and all growers should be applauded for their hard work and persistence in producing this crop,” said agriculture committee chair Gary Vucurevich.

Dry conditions this spring forced some growers to delay seeding until irrigation water started to flow.

Seeding was finished May 5 but later in the season 2,146 acres were damaged by hail, with the Picture Butte, Alta., region hardest hit, Vucurevich said.

Early harvest started Sept. 15 and 110,000 tonnes were delivered before the harvest season began in earnest Oct. 3.

Snowfall at Thanksgiving, followed by warm temperatures that affect beets in storage, provided additional challenges.

Growers will learn in early March how many acres Lantic will contract for the coming season.

Bergen Henengouwen said the same acreage as last year is the target at this point but the exact number is not yet official.

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