More Sugar Beet Acres For 2009

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After a drastic drop in sugar beet acres last year, Lantic Inc. (Rogers Sugar) is looking forward to a bigger crop for 2009.

Due to late contract negotiations and the high price of other crops in 2008, many growers made other cropping decisions and opted for a one-year leave of absence. Lantic offered the sugar beet growers the leave since it only needed about 25,000 acres, instead of the average 35,000 acres, due to bumper crop yields and sugar production in 2006 and 2007. As a result, acres went from 34,000 in 2007 to just over 18,000 in 2008, leaving Lantic a bit short handed.

“We would’ve had a very good year in 2008, but there were three massive hailstorm events that impacted yields,” says Andrew Llewelyn-Jones, agricultural superintendent for the Rogers Sugar plant in Taber. “Still, we had an average yield of 21.5 tonnes per acre of good-quality beets, which surprised us.”

Bumper crops in previous years produced about 25 tonnes per acre.

“Overall, we’ve improved the package for growers.”

The company spent this winter in negotiations with growers, aiming for a standard three-year contract, which was concluded a few weeks ago. At the time of press, Lantic was working on the specific contracts for 2009.

“Overall, we’ve improved the package for growers,” says Llewelyn-Jones. “We’ve increased potential returns to growers and made improvements to the early harvest incentives. Hopefully now we can compete better with higher-priced commodities.”

Llewelyn-Jones expected planting to begin around the middle of April until the first week of May, and estimates that around 30,000 acres will be grown this year, based on grower intentions.

“Both sides want a three-year contract because then growers have some stability and so do we,” says Llewelyn-Jones. “They can plan accordingly and so can the company.”

There are about 200 growers that deliver sugar beets to Lantic. The Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Marketing Board has the facility to introduce new growers, but most new growers are producers who bought a farm with an existing quota or there was a transfer between family members.

One thing growers have to be careful about is the sugar beet nematode, says Llewelyn-Jones. While the pest has never had a major foothold in southern Alberta, the company and growers implemented a mandatory four-year rotation in the 1970s, in response to some problem fields in the 1960s. Those fields were kept out of rotation for almost 20 years.

“What it means is that growers can’t grow sugar beets or another nematode-host crop more than once in a four-year period,” says Llewelyn-Jones. One of the major crops grown here that has an impact is canola grown for hybrid seed.

By adhering to the four-year rotation, the company and growers are able to safeguard the health of the industry. If sugar beet nematode were to take a foothold, it would be a very expensive problem to eradicate.

On June 30, 2008, Lantic Sugar Limited and Rogers Sugar Ltd. merged to form Lantic Inc. The company has two sugar-processing facilities in Western Canada, a cane sugar refinery in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a sugar beet-processing facility in Taber. The company’s sugar products are marketed primarily under the “Rogers” trade name, while the “Lantic” brand is used primarily in Eastern Canada. Products include granulated, icing, cube, yellow and brown sugars, liquid sugars and specialty sugars and syrups.

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