January 17th, 2021

Early start to sugar beet harvest

By Lethbridge Herald on September 4, 2020.

A harvester loads up a truck with sugar beets Friday on the Lievaart farm north of Chin. Local beet growers are taking to the fields early this year to begin the mini harvest this week. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski
Lethbridge Herald
Local sugar beet growers will be taking to the fields early this year to begin harvesting their crop for the 2020 growing season.
Beet yards were open in southern Alberta as of Friday, and the goal will be for farmers to start delivering 6,000 tonnes of beets per day throughout September as a “mini harvest” to help Lantic Sugar in Taber begin to ramp up full operation for the processing season. The ultimate goal is to have 180,000 tonnes of beets delivered to the sugar plant by Oct. 1.
This is two weeks earlier than the usual start of the beet harvesting season, but there are good reasons for it, says Gary Tokariuk, president of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers.
“I think it is a combination of the bad crop last year, and the extra 2,000 acres that we were contracted (by Lantic) this year,” explains Tokariuk. “We are up to 30,000 acres compared to 28,000 prior years. The earlier the factory gets going, the better the (sugar) extraction is at the end of the year. And we are looking at an above-average crop this year; so it is in everybody’s interest to get going early.”
Last year unseasonably cold weather in September and October froze local beet crops in fields, culminating in a 45-per-cent loss to beet growers and one of the worst write-off years in the ASBG’s history.
Tokariuk admits with this year’s above-average crop there is some eagerness about getting underway early this year, and some anxiety, too. With hot weather expected on Friday and today, growers are conscious they have to be careful in how they bring in their first truckloads of beets this year to prevent undue spoilage.
“We want to get the plant going early, and be able to provide that sugar to the people of Canada,” Tokariuk states. “Beets do have a shelf life; so you can’t pile them for very long. What we are doing is being very careful on the quality of the beet going into the pile. You can’t be harvesting in hot weather and put those beets in the pile warm … We are very cognizant of how the beets are going to go into the pile and their storability. There are also going to be a few piles that are ventilated. They put culverts inside the pile, and blow cool air through them to cool them down. They seem to store a lot better that way.”
“As long as those beets aren’t in a pile for more than a week,” he further explains, “they will store fine and be processed at the beet plant. That’s why it is going to be a controlled harvest off the start, and there are only so many beets that will be taken in at a time.”
Tokariuk says he and his fellow beet growers are looking forward to the fall harvest season, and are hoping to put 2019 firmly in the rearview mirror.
“Our family has been growing beets for 71 years, and last year was the first year we never got all our beets off,” Tokariuk laments. “It’s a hard pill to swallow when you see your year’s work left behind. But farmers are eternal optimists, and it’s always next year will be better.”
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