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Canada - Sugar beet growers hoping to rebound after 'rough' 2019 season

Coming off a 2019 growing season that was fraught with poor weather conditions during planting and harvesting, the region’s sugar beet growers are hoping 2020 brings them a season of healthy yields and returns.

Growers from Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton, along with researchers and industry representatives, met March 11 in Wallaceburg for the annual meeting of the Ontario Sugarbeet Growers Association.

“The crop year we just finished left us all battered and bruised,” said Rob McKerrall, chair of the association’s board of directors. “Whether it was the late spring planting or the freeze events during the harvest, the 2019 crop year was a rough one.”

McKerrall said growers from Ontario were still fortunate to get their crops to harvest, because of growers from other regions, in Michigan, couldn’t.

“We feel for those other regions,” he said.

McKerrall commended the Ontario growers on keeping their fields “clean and healthy” to push through and ensure a harvest.

“One good point was the quality of the crop, (which was) disease-free,” he said.

He added that local growers were able to keep Cercospora to a minimum. Cercospora is a fungus that can cause significant crop losses and, in severe cases, lead to beetroots not growing to full size.

“Everyone should be proud of that,” McKerrall said. “I had a number of comments made to me, that growers were very diligent in keeping their fields clean and you guys deserve credit for that.”

Although the 2019 season wasn’t ideal, it also wasn’t the worst-case scenario. Plenty of sunlight and receiving rain at the right times helped offset some of the struggles faced in the spring and fall, he noted.

And while yields weren’t high, the sugar content was, McKerrall said.

But now the focus for growers is on the upcoming season.

“The outlook is we get it in in a timely manner, we have an excellent growing and a nice fall to get it harvested,” McKerrall said. “The price potential looks quite good.”

Sugar beet growers in Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton send their harvest to the Michigan Sugar Company, which has four processing facilities in the state.

Ontario growers have been providing sugar beets to Michigan Sugar for almost 25 years after the American company offered that opportunity beginning in 1996. Parts of Sarnia-Lambton, as well as the Dresden, Wallaceburg and Dover Township area, have a history of sugar beet production, but that ended over 50 years when the Redpath processing facility in Chatham closed in 1968.

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