Michigan Sugar’s Sebewaing Hoop Building
Unlike the huge sugarbeet storage sheds dotting the Red River Valley, it’s not designed to hold frozen beets into spring, thereby extending the processing campaign. And unlike the ones at Amalgamated Sugar Company’s Paul, Idaho, location, it’s not even meant to cool and hold them down below ambient temperatures. But the new hoop building constructed this fall at Michigan Sugar Company’s Sebewaing factory location does have a very important mission: to reduce root deterioration and help provide good-quality beets for the factory right up to the end of the slicing campaign.
The Sebewaing hoop building, 190 feet wide and just under 600 feet in length, was filled this fall with about 45,000 tons of beets. It is an open-ended facility, with a roof apex some 80 feet above ground level. Ventilation fans outside its 10-foot-high concrete side walls pump air into the 24-foot-high beet pile.
The whole idea behind the hoop building is to cut down on quality deterioration of rim beets stemming from Michigan’s alternating patterns of rain, sun and snow during the winter months. “Unlike the Red River Valley, we can’t freeze beets solid,” explains Rick List, ag operations manager for Michigan Sugar Company. “We try to keep them at about 34-36 degrees in the piles with our ventilation. But we still have trouble with rim beets [on uncovered piles] due to the freezing-thawing cycles and the sun shining on them, along with snow. And we sometimes get rains in December-January that can be quite devastating.”
Michigan beet piles can and do partially freeze in midwinter — which causes added problems. “When we get strong, cold winds, the outside of the pile freezes solid — sometimes as much as 10 to 15 feet deep into the pile. That becomes a big block of ice and is very difficult for our loaders to break up,” List points out. “Then, if we haven’t removed those beets beforehand, it creates all sorts of issues when it thaws in the spring.
“Hopefully this building will keep some of the freezing from penetrating into the pile” by blocking the driving wind. The hoop building sits pretty much at a north-south angle, with the area’s prevailing winds coming in from the northwest.
The goal is to add a week to 10 days of “good beets” at the end of the campaign. “We’re not necessarily extending the overall length of the campaign since our factories are already pretty ‘maxed out,’ ” List says. “By keeping the rain, sun and snow off these beets, we’re hoping to cut down on the amount of rim beets that may go bad due to being exposed to those outside elements.”
About 15% of the overall Michigan Sugar Company crop is placed in ventilated piles at present, with those piles supplying beets to be processed during the final month of the campaign. “Our ventilation used to be done by the end of February,” List relates, “but now we’re going out to the middle or end of March, with those ventilated beets feeding the factories for the last two to three weeks. The same beets with the same quality of ventilation are going a month longer than they used to, so even ventilated beets are giving us some problems at the end.”
The Sebewaing hoop building should help alleviate that dilemma. “If we keep the snow, rain and sun off them and have ventilation, those beets should still be good when they’re hauled into the factory,” List says.
Sebewaing was chosen for the company’s first hoop building mainly because its piling grounds had sufficient room without requiring reconfiguration of power lines, drainage, etc. Assuming the Sebewaing facility proves sufficiently beneficial, however, it’s plausible additional hoop buildings will be constructed at other MSC locations in the future. — Don Lilleboe
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower