The Great Western Sugar Company, founded in the early 20th century by Charles Boettcher and partners, was a pioneer in bringing the sugar beet industry to northeastern Colorado. Colorado’s first sugar mill was built in Loveland, Colorado, in 1901. The company quickly expanded with additional facilities in Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana.
The sugar beet was first recognized as a plant with valuable sweetening properties in the early 1700s. Sugar beet growing for sucrose production became a viable industry in the United States by about 1870.
Original sugar beet workers, who settled northwest of Longmont, Colorado had immigrated from Sweden. German-Russian workers were also among those who early on farmed the sugar beet fields in Colorado. Sugar Beet workers also came from Mexico.
Over the next 100 years, following the Colorado sugar beet industry’s introduction, the industry experienced many changes as sugar beet production evolved from a labor intensive process to one that was highly mechanized. Tremendous gains were made in sugar beet seed genetics, which led to increased production and more pounds of sugar per acre.
Sugar beets grow well in northeastern Colorado, because of the availability of irrigation water, and the richness of the soil.
Sucrose from sugar beets represents the principal use for sugar beets in the United States. Sugar beets contain from 13 to 22% sucrose. Sucrose is widely used as a food additive. High fiber dietary food additives are manufactured from sugar beet pulp and major food processors in the United States have used these dietary supplements in many products, including breakfast cereals.
Sugar beet pulp and molasses are processing by-products and are widely used as feed supplements for livestock. These products provide required fiber in rations and increase the palatability of feeds. Sugar beet tops also can be used for livestock feed. Sheep and cattle ranchers allow grazing in beet fields in the fall to utilize the sugar beet tops. Cattle and sheep also will eat small beets left in the field after harvest.
Beet tops are an excellent source of protein, vitamin A, and carbohydrates, but are slightly inferior to alfalfa haylage or corn silage for beef cattle. Tops are equal to alfalfa haylage or corn silage for sheep.
Molasses by-products from sugar beet processing are used widely in the alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and bakers yeast industries. Waste lime from the processing of sugar beets is an excellent soil amendment to increase soil pH levels. Waste lime is a also a good source of P & K plant nutrients. Treated processing waste water also may be used for irrigation.
The sugar beet is a biennial plant, which was developed in Europe in the 18th century from white fodder beets. Sugar reserves are stored in the sugar beet root, during the first growing season, for an energy source during overwintering. The roots are harvested for sugar at the end of the first growing season, then plants, which overwinter in a mild climate will produce flowering stems and seed during the following summer and fall. sugar beets are a summertime crop in the northern United States and a winter or summer crop in more southern, semi-arid regions. sugar beet seed for the United States is produced in Oregon, where the climate is cool enough for vernalization, but warm enough for the roots to live through the winter.
The plant has a taproot system that utilizes water and soil nutrients from depths of 5 ft. to 8 ft. As sugar beet plants emerge, a pair of cotyledons unfold. Successive leaves develop in pairs throughout the growing season. The life expectancy of sugar beet leaves varies from 45 to 65 days and is temperature dependent.
Photothermal induction is necessary to bring about complete reproductive development of the plant. The sugar beet normally is a diploid plant. It is cross pollinated with wind being the effective agent.
Sugar beets have adapted to a very wide range of climatic conditions. They are primarily a temperate zone crop produced in the Northern Hemisphere at latitudes of 30 to 60°N. sugar beets can be produced in hotter and more humid environments, however, problems with insects, disease and low crop quality are more common in those areas.
The sugar beet plant grows until harvested or growth is stopped by a hard freeze. Sugar beets grow tops until the leaf canopy completely covers the soil surface in a field. This normally takes 70 to 90 days from planting. Optimal daytime temperatures are 60° to 80°F for the first 90 days of plant growth. The most favorable environment for producing a sugar beet crop is one with bright, sunny days with temperatures ranging from 65° to 80°F and nighttime temperatures of 40° to 50°F. These environmental conditions maximize yield and quality in a sugar beet crop.
Sugar beets are well adapted to a wide variety of soil types. A soil free or nearly free of stones is particularly desirable. Stones cause problems for sugar beet planting, thinning, harvesting and processing equipment. sugar beets can be successfully grown with irrigation in regions with very low rainfall.
How Beet Sugar is Made
The beets are harvested in the autumn and early winter. They are usually transported to the factory by large trucks. The beets have to be thoroughly washed and separated from any remaining beet leaves, stones and other trash material before processing.
The processing starts by slicing the beets into thin chips. The extraction takes place in a diffuser, where the beets are kept in contact with hot water for about an hour. The diffuser is a large horizontal or vertical agitated tank in which the beets slices slowly work their way from one end to the other and the water is moved in the opposite direction. This is called counter-current flow and as the water flows through it becomes an increasingly stronger sugar solution, called juice.
The exhausted beet slices from the diffuser are still very wet and the water they contain still holds some useful sugar. Next, the beets are pressed in screw presses to squeeze out as much juice as possible. The pressed beets, which become pulp, are sent to a drying plant, where they are turned into pellets that form an important constituent of some animal feeds.
The juice is next cleaned by a process known as carbonatation, where small clumps of chalk are grown in the juice. The clumps, as they form, collect a lot of the non-sugars. By filtering out the chalk, the non-sugars are removed. Once this is done the sugar liquor is ready for sugar production, except that it is very dilute.
The next stage of the process is to evaporate the juice in a multi-stage evaporator. This technique is used because it is an efficient way of using steam and it also creates another lower grade steam, which can be used to drive the crystallisation process.
For last stage, the syrup is placed into a very large pan, which typically holds 60 tons or more of sugar syrup. In the pan, even more water is boiled off until conditions are right for sugar crystals to grow. During this process, some sugar dust is usually added to initiate crystal formation. Once the crystals have grown, the resulting mixture of crystals and liquor is spun in centrifuges to separate the two components. The crystals are then submitted to a final hot air drying process, before they are packed and/or stored - ready for commercial distribution.
The final sugar product is white and ready for consumer or commercial uses.
In addition, beet molasses, a sweet by-product of raw sugar production is usually turned into a cattle food or is sent to a fermentation plant, such as a distillery, where alcohol is made. However, because beet molasses does not have the same quality smell and taste as cane molasses, it is not used for rum production.
Another interesting use of de-sugared beet molasses being researched is as an ingredient in road de-icing agents, which could offer an option to communities looking for alternative lower cost methods to de-ice roads.
by Mel Fenson from information
gathered from the web.