Beet-delivery trucks roll into Michigan Sugar facilities as full fall harvest begins

Published online: Oct 30, 2013
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MONITOR TOWNSHIP, Mich.-As Gov. Rick Snyder toured Michigan Sugar Co.'s Monitor Township facility Monday, Oct. 21, trucks carrying tons of sugarbeets were rolling up outside.

Monday was the first day of regular beet deliveries for the fall harvest, and hundreds of trucks loaded with beets will make their way to Michigan Sugar facilities in the coming weeks. 

"Season's going fine-average or above yield on most things," said Mike Mulders, owner of Mike Mulders Farm LLC, in Essexville and district director for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

"We're probably 30 plus tons to the acre on the irrigated ... beets," he said. "Dry land sugarbeets are, I'm going to say, around 25 tons."

Ray Van Driessche, the company's director of community and government relations, said an oversupply of sugar, including sugar imported from Mexico, has driven sugar prices down this year.

"(The) market is reduced considerably from what it was a year and a half ago," he said.

Michigan Sugar is the third largest beet sugar processor in the United States, annually producing nearly one billion pounds of sugar under the Pioneer and Big Chief brand names, according to the company.

The company has factories in Monitor Township, Caro, Croswell and Sebewaing, as well as warehouse terminals in Michigan and Ohio. The company is a grower-owned cooperative with about 1,000 growers as shareholders.

Grower Wayne Squanda, owner of Indian Fields Inc. in Buena Vista Township and president of the Saginaw County Farm Bureau, also was at Michigan Sugar Monday morning.

"I did early delivery. I'm probably about a third done," he said. "Surprising crop, better than what I really thought it would be, but not a record crop like we did last year."

Early delivery of sugar beets began Tuesday, Sept. 17. Paul Pfenninger, vice president of agriculture for Michigan Sugar, said 15 growers were scheduled to drop off about 5,000 tons of their crop at the Monitor Township facility that first day.

By about 4:15 p.m. Monday, Pfenninger said the company had received about 2,600 loads carrying a little less than 80,000 tons. On a very busy day, the company could receive more than 11,000 loads totaling more than 300,000 tons, he said.

"We're at a crawl right now because of the rainfall and it's the first day," he said, noting that delivery should pick up over the next few days.

When early delivery started, Pfenninger said he was anticipating about 25 tons per acre this season, resulting in a total of about 4 million tons, down from last year's 29 tons per acre.

"That was the best crop year ever. That was a record-setting year," he said, noting that last year's total yield was 4.75 million tons.

Squanda said this year's crop is more about quality than quantity.

"The sugar content has been good," he said. "That goes with the dry conditions. When it's dry, we get better sugar, but we don't get the tonnage."

Snyder visited with some of Michigan Sugar Co.'s grower-owners after taking a tour of the facility Monday morning.

During his tour he visited the control room, talked to staff, saw the beet-processing equipment, saw where the sugar is packaged and tasted the finished product at the facility.

Snyder said Michigan Sugar Co. is a "great success story."

Van Driessche said Michigan Sugar Co. employs about 2,400 full- and part-time employees and has direct revenues of about $600 million.

He said thanks to the growers' investment, Michigan Sugar Co. has been able to keep up to speed with changing technology. 

"We're very fortunate that the growers have been willing to invest a lot of money into the facilities to bring them up to the newest technology that's available," Van Driessche said. "And one of the greatest things that's a result of that is we're getting much better energy usage, a lot less energy being used, and more of it being a reduced impact on the environment."