Too many sugar beets to process

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Sugar beets spill out of the new indoor storage facility at the Michigan Sugar Company’s slicing plant in Croswell. Photo by Eric Levine

CROSWELL – Michigan Sugar Company officials know this year’s sugar beet crop will set a tonne-per-acre record. How much the numbers exceed the previous record of 31.64 tonnes per acre remains to be determined. But in recent weeks, the expected tonnage has risen again, with officials now predicting a harvest to exceed 36 tonnes per acre.

“We continue to monitor yields and tonnes delivered, and both continue to increase,” said Mark Flegenheimer, president and CEO of Michigan Sugar Company.

“Year to date, including beets harvested at the start of our digging season, we’re at 36.7 tonnes per acre. But as of October 22, we have an average of 38.8 tonnes per acre with many areas over 40 tonnes per acre and some even exceeding 50 tonnes per acre.

Flegenheimer said this year’s harvest is 1.2 million tonnes more than expected. And that has raised concerns about how long it will take to process this year’s crop. Already, the company plans to continue slicing sugar beets until mid-April, nearly a month after the end of a typical slicing campaign at Michigan Sugar Company’s factories in Croswell, Bay City, Caro and Sebewaing.

“With such a big harvest, you run the risk of not even finishing in May,” Flegenheimer said. “This is not a position we want to get into, because managing the sugar beet heaps then becomes too difficult a task. “

To help manage the size of this year’s crop, Michigan Sugar Company officials announced on Nov. 1 that the company’s nearly 900 grower-owners are required to leave 5% percent of their sugar beets unharvested. This year. That’s about 8,000 acres of the nearly 163,000 acres planted this season.

However, as the harvest continues to advance, company officials now believe that this will not be enough to make up for the huge tonnage numbers they are seeing.

So, on Sunday, November 7, the Michigan Sugar Company announced an additional voluntary buy-back program whereby producer-owners have reserved an additional 5,000 acres to be left on the land this year. Producer-owners who have signed up for this program will be paid for those acres based on the averages paid for their previously delivered crop.

“The 5 percent was mandatory (without compensation), but those extra acres are really voluntary,” Flegenheimer said. “We just need to take action right now to limit our tonnage. We’re already 7½ tonnes per acre above our five-year average of 29 tonnes per acre. We’re not just going to beat our previous record a little bit, we’re going to break it.

In the end, the Michigan Sugar Company will harvest about 150,000 acres this season, while leaving over 500,000 tonnes of sugar beets in the fields. Flegenheimer said all of this would be taken into consideration when determining how many acres of sugar beets to plant next season.

“We probably won’t be planting 100% of our acres,” he said. “It’s tricky because you don’t want to make decisions based on a year of data that is so different from our five-year averages. And, of course, you never know what kind of growing season Mother Nature will bring you. There are many factors at play here, and it’s important to look at the data and not base decisions on emotions. “

To date, the Michigan Sugar Company grower-owners have harvested over 85% of this year’s crop. Over 4.7 million tonnes of sugar beets were delivered and over 1.6 million tonnes were sliced. This campaign to date, the company has produced over 440 million pounds of sugar.


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