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Michigan Sugar Looking Forward to ‘Bright’ 2021 After ‘Fantastic’ Harvest

Sugarbeet pile in Bay City. Photo: Michigan Sugar

Michigan Sugar started sugarbeet harvest on August 11—the earliest start date for a campaign in recent history. According to Jim Ruhlman, executive vice president, it was one of the best harvests the co-op has had in the last five years.

“When we look at harvest, we have two time periods: early dig where we’re bringing in enough beets to feed the factories, and our full-blown harvest where we’re stockpiling beets,” he said. “We had great weather—we had a couple of days where temperatures were too high and a couple days where temperatures were too low. But all in all, harvest was fantastic.”

Early tonnage in August was right on with expectations. However overall tonnage was overestimated.

“Overall tonnage was 28.5 [tons an acre], which is a tick lower than what we expected,” said Ruhlman. “Our later dug beets, they were like 31.5 tons per acre. We were expecting maybe 33, but maybe our expectations were too high. They put on good growth, but not quite as much as we thought.”

Ruhlman said our competitors to the west have faced a similar story.

“Yields are a little lower than what everybody expected this year,” he said. “I don’t know all the reasons for that—at least in our area, sugars were good.”

Those sugars were the super power behind the 2020 beet crop, according to Ruhlman. Sugars in the factory are much higher than they were in 2019.

“Our sugar percentage during permanent piling was an average of about 90 percent, which is absolutely phenomenal for us,” he said. “Yield was good, sugars were outstanding.”

Michigan Sugar recently held its district meetings, and the growers are planning on planting full acres again next year, which is upwards of 160,000 acres. Ruhlman is anticipating 2021 to be another favorable year.

“I’m expecting we will again slice beets in mid to late August with full acreage planted,” he said. “We have some really phenomenal varieties we can plant right now. We’re looking forward to the next crop—we think we’ve got great tools to combat some of these harsher diseases. We’ve got world class growers that can grow phenomenal crops. 2020 is looking pretty bright for us.”

Ruhlman believes the campaign will be completed this March.