Sugar content in beets will hurt Michigan economy

CROSWELL, Michigan – The odd summer weather results in a sugar beet crop that is decent in tonnage but low in sugar.

Ray VanDriessche, director of community and government relations for the Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City, said the 2016 crop estimate is about 30 tonnes per acre, but “the sugar content is very low, the more weak that we have seen in a number of years.

“It has a huge impact when your sugar content is low,” he said.

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He said the sugar content is around 15% or a little more.

“We would like to see that around 17.5%, 18%,” he said. “There are years when we have an average of 18.5% sugar, so we’re down.”

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The Michigan Sugar Company is a growers cooperative made up of approximately 1,100 farmers, primarily in Michigan, but with a few 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 approximately $ 600 million with an indirect economic impact of approximately $ 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 maybe half the summer, so these beets lay dormant for a long time,” he said.

When the rains came in August, the beets went into growing mode, he said, but they were putting their energy into producing leaves and roots instead of storing sugar.

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“Because this growth pattern is stunted, we don’t see the ripe beets that we normally start to see at this time of year,” VanDriessche said. “When this beet ripens, it begins to store sugar. We believe that the ripening process has been delayed by this long dry spell and drought. “

Less sugar means less processed sugar and this affects what farmers can get out of their harvest.

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“It will have an impact on the payout, there is no doubt about it,” VanDriessche said.

He said this year’s crop was also affected by a fungal disease called Sigatoka spot.

“The producers are doing a good job of staying on top, but it was pretty ubiquitous this year,” VanDriessche said.

Hot weather also plays a role in the beet processing campaign. Until Monday, Michigan Sugar Company factories and stacking stations were accepting beets only as needed.

Now, said VanDriessche, “growers can bring in beets as they please. Before that, it was what we called early delivery. …

“What’s the matter, before that we thought the temperatures weren’t cool enough to pile them up until we could slice them up.

“The weather is cool enough that we believe they will hold up well throughout the campaign.”

Contact Bob Gross at 810-989-6263 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ RobertGross477.

Sugar beets: in figures

  • The Michigan Sugar Company’s Croswell Plant was built in 1902.
  • The plant processes around 720,000 tonnes of sugar beet each year.
  • The average daily slice of sugar beets is 4,100 tonnes.
  • Croswell produces 200 million pounds of sugar annually; 10,000 tonnes of dried beet pulp; 115,000 tonnes of pressed beet pulp; and 32,000 tonnes of molasses.
  • The four Michigan Sugar Company factories produce a total of 1.2 billion pounds of sugar per year.
  • For more information on Michigan Sugar Company, visit; the company is also on Facebook at
  • According to the Pioneer Sugar website, it takes seven to ten sugar beets to make a 5-pound bag of sugar. Pioneer and Big Chief are trademarks owned by Michigan Sugar Company.