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Earlier this week, a group of community members were given a behind-the-scenes look at operations at the Western Sugar Cooperative.
The annual Agri-business Sugar Tour took participants through the process making a beet into sugar — from planting the seed to shipping out the finish product.
The evening began with a presentation, which included videos that provided background into the history of Western Sugar and sugar production.
Agriculturists Craig Spencer and Branden Hessler fielded questions from curious attendees about how the cooperative works and the hardships local producers are facing after getting a late start planting, a brutal growing season and a dismal harvest.
One man asked if it growing beets was really all that profitable, once all the costs are considered.
Usually, yes, said Spencer.
“This year has not been a good year for us all the way through, as far as the whole crop and the place where our company maybe is, but up until this year, yes,” Spencer said.
They explained how contracts in the cooperative work, explaining that farmers must purchases shares in relation to how many acres of beets they’re going to plant. Without purchasing shares, their beets will not be accepted.
In 2002 when the cooperative was formed, a share was $185.
“We’ve seen values go as high as $1,000 per share right here in this area,” said Spencer. “Currently, I have people who will give you shares — but be advised, if you take the shares, you’re responsible to grow them or cause them to be raised.”
When asked about this year’s sugar content, Spencer said the average was about 16 percent.
“Our normal running five year average is 17.5,” Spencer said.
“You get an 18 or 19, you’re doing really good,” added Hessler.
Another man asked how Western Sugar helps its producers throughout the growing season.
“What about some of those things like soil sampling?” he asked.
Hessler explained that in his role as a agriculturist, he help producers with everything from tillage recommendations to plant diseases.
“A couple growers occasionally ask for recommendations on some of their other crops as well and we help them with that,” Hessler said.
Process manager Tracy Bentley went over the process of producing sugar and molasses, passing around samples from each step.
“The beets come in and we try to process them within about a five-month period from early September through February,” Bentley said.
She explained that molasses that results from the process isn’t the sweet stuff you’d find in grocery stores.
“Sugar beet molasses is bitter,” Bentley said.
After hearing from Bentley, attendees had the chance to see the process for themselves as they were divided into smaller groups and led on tours through the facility, covering receiving all the way to storing the finished product.
Along the way, they had the opportunity to watch control room screens alongside those who do it daily, take a peek at sugar crystals that were in the process of forming, visit the lab where samples are tested and see how the sugar is bagged and packaged.
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December 12, 2019 at 09:50AM