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Canada

Southern Alberta sugar beet farmers unable to harvest nearly half of 2019 crop

Canadian sugar company Rogers has announced that it has been forced to terminate the 2019 sugar beet harvest in southern Alberta due to the impact of severe fall weather in the area.

In a statement Thursday, Rogers said: “This decision was made following an exhaustive analysis by the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers and the Corporation, which jointly determined that severe snow and frost damage has resulted in an inability to store or process the unharvested, damaged sugar beet crop.”

READ MORE: Taber, Alta., man crushed by hay bale in critical condition

Arnie Bergen-Henengouwen, president of the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Association, said roughly 45 per cent of the 2019 crop has been left in the ground by farmers.

“To call it quits before being completed is difficult, for sure,” said Bergen-Henengouwen.

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In his years of farming in the area, Bergen-Henengouwen said he hasn’t seen anything like this.

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“This is unprecedented.. three very cold weather events in October,” he said. “We do often have one cold weather event and the crop comes through OK.”

READ MORE: Southern Alberta Taber corn farmers grapple with after-effects of Tuesday’s severe storm

Retired agronomy research scientist Ross McKenzie said he hasn’t seen many situations like this 30 years.

“[It is] very, very unusual,” said McKenzie. “The last time sugar beets could not be harvested was about 2009 — so about 10 years ago — and you have to go back to about 1984 the next time.”

Southern Alberta is home to 190 sugar beet producers, who are used to beet crops withstanding frigid temperatures.

“Sugar beets, they can tolerate a certain amount of frost when you have good, vegetative leafy growth right at the soil’s surface to really provide an insulating effect from those cold temperatures,” said McKenzie.

“The temperature was so cold that all that above-ground growth froze and wilted, and then we had two more events after that.”

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Farmers will now have to wait and see if the weather permits them to work down fields before next season.

READ MORE: Southern Alberta crops in dire need of rain

Rogers will continue to review options to service customers in the area, including receiving cane sugar supply from Vancouver and Montreal refineries, both of which have excess capacity.

Southern Alberta is home to the only Canadian sugar beet processing facility, in Taber, Alta.

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