Michigan Sugar Company officials know this year’s sugarbeet harvest is going to set a record in terms of tons per acre. By how much this year’s numbers surpass the previous record of 31.64 tons per acre is still to be determined. But in recent weeks, the expected tonnage grew again with officials now predicting a crop that tops 36 tons per acre.
“We keep watching the yields and the tons being delivered, and both just continue to go up,” said Mark Flegenheimer, President and CEO of Michigan Sugar Company. “Year-to-date, including the beets harvested during our early dig period, we are at 36.7 tons per acre. But since Oct. 22, we are averaging 38.8 tons per acre with many areas above 40 tons per acre and some even topping 50 tons per acre.”
Flegenheimer said this year’s crop is 1.2 million tons more than expected. And that has raised concerns about how long it will take to process this year’s crop. Already, the company is expecting to continue slicing sugarbeets into mid-April, nearly a month past when a typical slicing campaign ends at Michigan Sugar Company’s factories in Bay City, Caro, Croswell, and Sebewaing.
“With a crop this big, you run the danger of not even finishing by May,” Flegenheimer said. “That’s not a position we want to get into because by then managing the sugarbeet piles becomes too challenging a task.”
To help manage the sheer size of this year’s crop, Michigan Sugar Company officials, on Nov. 1, announced that the company’s nearly 900 grower-owners are required to leave 5% of their sugarbeets unharvested this year. That amounts to about 8,000 acres of the nearly 163,000 acres planted this season.
As harvest continues to roll on, however, company officials now believe that won’t be enough to offset the huge numbers they are seeing in terms of tonnage.
So, on Sunday, Nov. 7, Michigan Sugar Company announced an additional voluntary buy-back program through which grower-owners have earmarked an additional 5,000 acres to be left in the field this year. Grower-owners who signed up for this program will be paid for these acres based on averages paid for their already delivered crop.
“The 5% was mandatory, but these additional acres are truly voluntary,” said Flegenheimer. “We simply have to take steps at this time to limit our tonnage. We’re already 7 ½ tons per acre above our five-year average of 29 tons per acre. We’re not just going to break our previous record by a little bit, we’re going to shatter it.”
In the end, Michigan Sugar Company will harvest about 150,000 acres this season, while leaving more than 500,000 tons of sugarbeets in the fields. Flegenheimer said all of this will be taken into consideration when determining how many acres of sugarbeets to plant next season.
“We likely won’t be planting 100% of our acres,” he said. “It’s tricky, because you don’t want to make decisions based on one year of data that is so different from our five-year averages. And, of course, you never know what type of growing season Mother Nature will bring. There are many factors at play here and it is important to look at the data and not base decisions on emotions.”
To date, Michigan Sugar Company’s grower-owners have harvested more than 85% of this year’s crop. More than 4.7 million tons of sugarbeets have been delivered and more than 1.6 million tons have been sliced. This campaign to date, the company has produced more than 440 million pounds of sugar.