Alberta, Ontario sugar beet producers hope for good year

Sugar beets. (Photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

MarketsFarm — Sugar beet farmers in Canada’s two main growing provinces are hoping for a good year, according to the leaders their respective provincial associations.

Wet conditions extended planting in Ontario, said Rob McKerrall, chair of the Ontario Sugarbeet Growers’ Association (OSGA).

“There was probably a third of the crop went in fairly early. It looks to be on track for a good crop year,” he said.

Most of this year’s crop was planted during the second half of May, with about 15 per cent having been sown during the first half of June, he said.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed for it,” McKerrall said of the beets planted in June.

Unlike southern Ontario, Alberta has dealt with dry conditions throughout most of this year, but the province’s sugar beet growers were able to irrigate their crops, said Arnie Bergen-Henegouwen, president of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers (ASBG).

“A couple of the irrigation districts restricted their water allocations,” he said, noting most of those restrictions have since been lifted.

“The crop is progressing well,” he said.

The Alberta sugar beet industry is centered in the Taber area, where Redpath Sugar operates a processing plant.

The ASBG president said farmers are paid according to the quality of their beets they deliver to the plant. Expectations for this year are for an average quality, which he said should fetch $50-$52 per tonne.

Ontario growers’ beets are purchased by the Michigan Sugar Co-operative in the U.S. McKerrall said farmers are expecting at least US$46 (C$60) per tonne, perhaps up to US$50.

Statistics Canada projected 37,400 acres of sugar beets to be planted this year, down from last year’s 46,600 but still among the most acres planted in recent years. Production-wise, the 2018 crop was the largest on record, at nearly 1.38 million tonnes.

The agency’s projection for Ontario was for 12,800 acres to have been planted, but McKerrall said some OSGA members weren’t able to get their entire crop in as the insurance deadline passed — something that never happened before, he said

Farmers should have around 9,500 to 10,000 acres planted, he added.

Farmers in Ontario grew sugar beets before official record-keeping began in 1908 and continued through to 1967. The industry resumed in the late 1990s as Michigan Sugar sought to source more beets.

Alberta was also predicted to have fewer acres this year at 24,600, down 4,000 from 2018, according to Statistics Canada. However, that’s still very much in line with the acres farmers planted over the last number of years.

Quebec grew sugar beets from 1944 to 1985 and Manitoba from 1940 to 1996. No other province has grown enough sugar beets to have been recorded by Statistics Canada.

— Glen Hallick writes for MarketsFarm, a Glacier FarmMedia division specializing in grain and commodity market analysis and reporting.

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