Farmers find sugar not as sweet

Published online: Dec 01, 2013
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CROSWELL, Mich.-With revenue from sugar down from previous years, the harvest hasn't been sweet to sugarbeet farmers this growing season.

The first payment to beet farmers will be $33 per ton as compared to the state average of $87.70 per ton in the 2011-12 harvest year.

Through the North American Free Trade Act, the United States opened its borders to Mexico's sugar market roughly five years ago.

"Profit has been down. The last of couple years, Mexico has flooded our market with sugar. Five years ago is when it started, but you could really start feeling the effects of it in the past year," said Dennis Gardner, of Gardner Family Farming in Yale.

The U.S. Sugar Program guarantees farmers a stable profit, while the crops coming in from Mexico are able to be sold for less since there is no profit protection.

While this means low prices for sugar consumers, it hurts local sugar producers.

Sugar prices might be down, but the sugar content and harvest yields are average for the Michigan Sugar plant in Croswell.

"Our sugar content is at 18.2 percent this year, which is slightly lower than last year but still adequate," said Keith Kalso, agricultural manager at Croswell.

The Croswell plant produces more than 1 million pounds of sugar per day, Kalso said, and the campaign lasts 250 days.

"Our yields are good, too. We yielded 28 tons per acre of sugar beets, which is about the same as the previous year," he said.

About 80 percent of the crop was harvested in 10 days, with 450 acres remaining to be completed this week.

For Gardner, the season has seemed longer.

"It's been a long harvest this year because of the weather. The rain delays harvesting, and if the temperature is too cold, it makes it difficult to get the beets out of the ground," Gardner said.

Gardner is a third-generation farmer who began helping with the harvest when he was a junior in high school.

"Sugarbeets will always be a cash crop, even if it's not as profitable as it once was," Gardner said.