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Producers with the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative harvested a whopping 3.67 million tons of sugar beets last season, one of the cooperative’s largest crops on record. Plant operators set a different record: Environmental compliance was possibly the best ever, bringing the company a step closer to its goal of 100 percent compliance. (File photo)
on Jul 18, 2018 at 12:00 p.m.
RENVILLE, Minn. — Producers with the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative harvested a whopping 3.67 million tons of sugar beets last season, one of the cooperative's largest crops on record.
Plant operators set a different record: Environmental compliance was possibly the best ever, bringing the company a step closer to its goal of 100 percent compliance. It recorded no storm water violations at its 13 remote piling sites; greatly reduced the soil and organic matter entering its wastewater treatment system at the Renville plant; and likewise, reduced the number of hydrogen sulfide emissions from its wastewater ponds that exceeded standards by 90 percent from the previous two years.
Sagar Sunkavalli, environmental manager for SMBSC, reported on the company's environmental performance to the Renville County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. The annual report is a requirement of the company's permit allowing it to discharge treated wastewater into County Ditch 45.
The plant sliced 3.3 million tons of beets last year, and the 2017-2018 processing campaign continued to May 13.
Sunkavalli attributed the improved environmental compliance to the "cascading effects" of strategies to improve how beets are stored and processed. The weather helped too. Last winter's early arrival helped deep freeze the beets and lengthen their storage life.
The company has also installed permanent ventilators at many of its storage sites to extend storage life.
In his report, Sunkavalli described an aggressive strategy to identify "hot spots,'' or areas within the piles where beets are warming, and targeting those beets for processing before they degrade.
What he described as "significant improvements" at the processing plant have helped the plant reduce the amount of soil and organic matter reaching the wastewater ponds. Less soil and organic water — mainly lost sugar — means fewer pollution issues, he noted.
More effective processing also means that more sugar is being captured and bagged, rather than lost, he pointed out.
The plant discharged 410 million gallons of treated wastewater in the past year. It is allowed to discharge up to 2.3 million gallons a day, but is asking for a variance to increase the amount to 3.6 million gallons, according to Sunkavalli.
On the land, the producers continue to participate in a company-sponsored cover crop program. The program saw a 94 percent participation rate, with producers planting cover crops on over 90,000 acres last spring, Sunkavalli reported.
The cover crop program was credited with reducing phosphorus runoff to the Minnesota River by 6,400 tons. The savings offset phosphorus that is discharged in the plant's wastewater, and earned the cooperative 13,000 phosphorus credits from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
The cooperative was unable to trade or sell most of the credits, said Sunkavalli. He told the commissioners that the company and producers believe the benefits provided by cover crops in protecting soil and benefiting the environment make it worthwhile to continue.
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July 23, 2018 at 09:49AM