Almost half of Alberta’s sugar beet crop is lost

About 45 percent of Alberta’s 2019 sugar beet crop will not be harvested.

It means about 12,600 of the 28,000 contracted acres are lost to producers and lost to Lantic Sugar, the processor that operates the sugar factory in Taber, Alta.

“It’s hard to take,” said Alberta Sugar Beet Growers President Arnie Bergen-Henengouwen. “It’s been a hard harvest all around for growers, not only for sugar beets … but its definitely tough to take. But there’s not much you can do when you have the weather events that we’ve dealt with over the past month.”

Sugar beets can withstand adverse weather but the freeze and thaw cycle seen in late September and again shortly into October was too much for the plants to take. Even if weather did allow digging at this point, the beets are no longer suitable for storage or processing.

Rogers Sugar Inc., which markets sugar under Lantic Inc., issued a statement Nov. 7 about harvest termination.

“The decision was made following an exhaustive analysis by the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers and the Corporation, which jointly determined that severe snow and frost damage has resulted in an inability to store or process the unharvested damaged sugar beet crop,” it said.

Snowfall in late September and temperatures as low as -16 C put the initial delay on harvest but growers were able to resume harvest for a short time.

“We went when we could and when the first snowfall set in, both the growers and Lantic and the field staff at Lantic worked together very well to get the amount of crop that we did,” said Bergen Henengouwen.

“Normally we come through a single event like that quite well, and the beets did.… The canopy stayed relatively intact. And then we got the second cold snow event and cold weather and that one really did it in. The canopy was destroyed.”

Frost penetrated the beets so even if dug, they would deteriorate quickly at piling grounds and be unsuitable for processing into sugar.

“It was just one too many blows,” Bergen-Henengouwen said.

The reduced size of the beet crop will shorten the processing campaign at the plant as well. The Taber sugar factory is the only one of its kind in Canada.

In 2002 and 2009, bad harvest conditions also affected the sugar beet crop. Growers went to considerable time and effort to harvest the crop in hopes it could be usable, but that was not the case.

They learned from that and this time the beets will remain in the ground.

Alberta growers have one more year remaining on their current contract with Lantic but next year’s crop seems far away when growers are still absorbing the loss of this one, he said.

“We’re going to start our regular routine I guess. As regular as it can be. We won’t get the crop but we’ll carry on for sure.”

Last year southern Alberta growers had a record-sized harvest, with the top grower harvesting 37.96 tonnes per acre.

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