MONITOR TOWNSHIP, Mich.—As the final sugarbeets prepare to roll through Michigan Sugar Co.'s processing facility in Monitor Township, the company’s grower-owners are already gearing up for the upcoming planting season.
Cold temperatures and wet fields, however, are expected to delay seeds from being put in the ground for at least a month.
“I’m looking out my back window and a third of my field is a pond right now,” said Duane Scheuerlein, who farms about 200 acres of sugarbeets in Frankenlust Township. “If we get some 70-degree days, we could be out there in three weeks. If this current pattern of weather continues, it’ll be longer.”
Michigan Sugar’s yearly beet processing campaign is scheduled to wrap up Sunday, March 23. This past week at the company’s headquarters, 2600 S. Euclid Ave., machines whirred and hummed, the floor was wet and the air was hot, humid and pungent as production of the last of the 2013 crop was sliced.
Ray Van Driessche, director of community and government relations for Michigan Sugar, said he is pleased with this year’s campaign, which saw 4.173 million tons of beets delivered, down from 4.75 million tons a year ago.
While it’s still unclear exactly how much sugar that translates to, area farmers suggest it could be a little less this year, due to the weather.
At the beginning of the processing season, about 290 pounds of sugar per ton of beets was being extracted, said Scheuerlein. As the season wraps up, he estimates the total may fall somewhere closer to 270 pounds of sugar per ton of beets.
“With the freeze, some of the beets have deteriorated in the pile and become harder to process,” said Scheuerlein.
Still, Michigan Sugar officials expect total sugar production this year to fall somewhere between 1 billion and 1.1 billion pounds. The total amount depends on how many beets are actually processed, explained Van Driessche.
“(For example,) if we had 4.1 million tons of beets delivered we may actually end up slicing only 3.8 (million tons),” he said.
All things considered, the campaign went well, Van Driessche said.
“The fact that the conditions have stayed cool right through the end of our slice campaign is definitely a big advantage for us.”
The lingering cold isn’t such a good thing for the upcoming planting season, though.
On average, the beet “growing year” begins in early April, from about April 5-10, with most of the planting taking place in a 10-day period, Van Driessche said.
“We’d like to have them all in by the last week of April, if it’s possible,” he said. “We know its going to be much later than our normal, average planting date."
Scheuerlein agreed, noting that in 2012, farmers had beet seed in the ground by mid-March. That marked one of the earliest starts in the company's 108-year history.
“That can be a big advantage,” said Scheuerlein. “A beet will keep growing until you pull it out, so a beet in the ground for six months has a better opportunity of a higher amount of sugar than a beet that has been in the ground for five months.
“By the same token, if you plant and then have 30- to 40-degree weather, it’s not going to grow much anyways. It all depends on the weather pattern.”
Michigan Sugar Co. has approximately 1,000 grower-owners who plant about 160,000 acres of beets annually in 19 Michigan counties and Ontario.