Rich fertile soil

When spring arrives farmers can be found in their fields. But what are they doing out there? Across the country, sugar beet and sugar cane growers are hard at work planting, growing and harvesting their crops. Learn more about what sugar growers in different locations are doing this spring:  

Sugar beet

Sugar beets are a 5 month crop. Generally, the seeds are planted in the spring and the fully-grown sugar beets are harvested in the fall. But before farmers can even plant the seeds, they must prepare the land. Once it is warm enough that the ground is no longer freezing at night, the first step each spring is to till the ground. Thanks to technology, farmers can use sophisticated equipment and GPS to prepare hundreds of acres a day.

Once the ground is ready, planters are loaded with seeds and once again GPS technology is used to drop seeds in perfectly planned rows. The sowing machinery is also high tech and is designed to drop the perfect amount of seeds as not to waste any resources.

This may sound simple enough, but there are many factors that can make planting the a bit challenging. For example, Mother Nature can cause delays. Even though it’s springtime, nights can still be quite cold in Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming where sugar beets are grown. If a night gets too cold and the seeds or plants freeze, then the whole crop can die. When this happens, hundreds or thousands of acres may need to be replanted with new seeds.

In early May, some sugar beet growers are still in the planting process. Others have finished planting seeds and are starting to see green buds appear. Sugar beets are a root plant and weigh 3-5 pounds when fully grown. At the budding stage in spring however, they are just a few little green leaves the size of a fingertip with thin little roots that will become a huge beet in a few short months.

There is one exception to sugar beets budding in the spring. In the Imperial Valley of Southern California, sugar beet growers and processors are on a very different timeline. The temperate California winter typically has more rainfall and better sugar beet growing weather than the spring, so they follow a schedule opposite of other sugar beets growing areas: beets are planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. Right now, farmers are in their fields with very different equipment from that used to plant. Harvest equipment is designed to cut the leaves off the sugar beets, dig them out of the ground and shake as much dirt off as possible. The sugar beets are then loaded into trucks to extract their sugar at the nearby factory.

Sugar cane

Sugar cane is a 10-12 month crop and in the U.S. it is grown in the warm climates of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. The stalks are planted in the fall and grow for up to a full year before they are harvested. Right now, sugar cane shoots have sprouted off the full stalks that were planted last fall and stand about 2 feet tall. When they are full grown, sugar cane plants are 10-20 feet tall.

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