Beet growers eye road de-icing market

Beet juice can beat snow and ice in winter road conditions, but the stuff being used in Calgary and elsewhere in Western Canada does not come from Alberta-grown sugar beets.

Alberta Sugar Beet Growers would like to change that because another use for their product could mean more acres and higher economic returns.

“We believe that it is potentially an area of opportunity that our industry could look at and ASBG has had multiple conversations with the distributor and they would be more than happy to buy Canadian product. We just can’t supply it at this time,” said ASBG executive director Melody Garner-Skiba.

A mix of brine and beet juice creates a liquid that sticks to roads and weakens the bond between the road and the snow and ice that accumulate. Calgary used almost 100,000 litres of beet juice in late December before a major snowfall.

The concoction has also been used on the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia, known on reality television as the Highway Thru Hell because of its treacherous winter conditions.

All Alberta sugar beets are grown under contract to Lantic Sugar, operator of the Rogers sugar factory in Taber, Alta.

Supplying a new product would require buy-in from Lantic, said Garner-Skiba.

“First of all, we’d need to de-sugarize the molasses, so that could be a bolt-on to the plant, but my understanding is that it’s probably about a $20 million investment.”

Another company could also make the product but Lantic would have to be willing to sell that company some product. However, molasses is now made into feed and other byproducts and is part of the Lantic product line.

“I think there’s potential. I think this is something that we seriously need to look at as an industry, and it is something that our industry development committee is looking at that,” Garner-Skiba said.

“It’s just we’re in a situation where we really need the processor to also consider it as an opportunity, whether it’s a sales opportunity or whether it’s a refining and processing opportunity for them.”

Jeff Gulyas sells various beet juice-containing products for Collett Transport, based in Notre Dame de Lourdes, Man. The firm is the western Canadian distributor for a variety of products including Fusion 60/40 Anti-Icer.

Gulyas said the sugar beet ingredients used in the product are sourced from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

“The reason is, there’s a few processes the sugar beet goes through to get to the end product that we use.… I know when I’ve been talking with the sugar beet growers in Alberta there, basically Taber does have a refinery but they don’t have the ability to take the last step.

“As Canadians, of course we’d prefer to use it but unfortunately they’re not at that point yet.”

Gulyas said the City of Winnipeg uses the beet-based Fusion product, as does Winnipeg International Airport, Manitoba Highways, Assiniboine Park and the town of La Broquerie, as well as many other locations in Canada.

There is also a competing product called Beet 55, which Gulyas said has different properties than Fusion 60/40 and its unique pH balancing component.

Beet-derived treatments are gaining popularity because they are more environmentally friendly than chloride-based treatments.

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