Alberta Beet Pile Faces Rotting Issues

Published online: Dec 28, 2020 News Doug Ferguson
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Source: Western Producer

A severe cold snap in October likely caused a large pile of sugarbeets to rot in Burdett, Alberta, said a local farmer.

The beets have already been delivered and farmers will likely be paid for them, said Will Muller of Muller Ventures Inc.

“But I’m not sure what’s going to happen yet.”

Growers are protected under contract by an extraction guarantee, said Bryan Avison, agricultural superintendent at Lantic Inc. in Taber, Alberta. Both producers and the company “maybe didn’t make as much sugar as we planned on, but in the end, I think it’s still going to work out real well.”

The loss only represents about three percent of the total crop that was delivered in Alberta, he said. “The overall crop yield was exceptional, and the sugar content was one of the five best in our history. And processing is going well and we expect to be completed by mid-February.”

About 45 percent of the province’s sugarbeet crop was lost in 2019 due to a freeze and thaw cycle that occurred in the fall. Severe snow and frost damage resulted in an “inability to store or process the unharvested damaged sugar beet crop,” said a statement last year by Rogers Sugar Ltd., which markets sugar under Lantic Inc.

This year’s harvest started Sept. 4 and was completed Nov. 21, with about 80 percent of the crop in by Oct. 17, said Avison. A small amount of the total crop was unable to be processed due to weather challenges and storage issues, he said.

Such problems are typically encountered about once every five years, he said.

“We store a crop outside and it’s a perishable commodity, and there’s shelf life there, and if we have extreme weather events during the storage period, it can affect storability and it’s just (a fact of) living in southern Alberta.”

Muller said farmers are wondering why Burdett was affected more than other beet receiving stations.

“Yeah, there’s a few ideas and everyone is pointing fingers, so I’m kind of weary answering the questions because right now there’s a lot of fingers being pointed saying, ‘oh, it’s because of this person, because of that, or because of this equipment’. ”

However, Avison said a severe cold snap on the weekend of Oct. 23-25 caused overnight lows of -20 C.

“It was worse out east, I guess, and I mean the frost affected our whole growing area, but Burdett still had a large amount of beets to come in, where other stations were close to completing harvest at that time.”

Muller estimated about 16,000 tonnes of sugarbeets now piled at Burdett were likely affected by frost damage, causing the pile to start to rot.

“Normally, you always get a rot on the sugar beet pile and it goes around the outsides of the pile and the inside of the pile stays good, but the outside of the pile always gets some rot,” he said.

“But when there’s rot in the sugar beet, it’ll start to rot inside the circle of the pile. It’ll start to warm up (from decomposition), so that’s what happened this year. They thought they could avoid it, and it didn’t work well.”

Avison said Dec. 16 that recovery has been good and the rest of the beet piles are storing well.