Greetings my fellow readers of The Sugarbeet Grower! I believe it is safe to assume that many of us are getting ready for spring work. It won’t be long if the weather stays like this!
In my last article, I wrote about my visit to William Martin’s farm near Cambridge, UK. William’s sugarbeets are grown under contract to the British Sugar Company. I had the opportunity to visit their Wissington Norfolf factory, which is about one hour north of London. British Sugar considers this factory their "crown jewel" facility not only because it is the largest factory in world, but also the most efficient in Europe. Built in 1925, one year before American Crystal's flagship plant opened in East Grand Forks, the factory has a slicing capacity of about 20,000-21,000 tonnes per day and handles three million tonnes of sugarbeets each year from 1,200 UK growers. Unlike our industry at home, British Sugar is not a cooperative and contracts with growers. I have had the opportunity to tour a few of American Crystal's and Amalgamated Sugar's factories in MN, ND, and ID and as you would expect, many of the processing steps are the same. Basic sugar production is the core of the Wissington factory, but much more than sugar is made here. The output of each process has become the input of the next until almost all raw materials are used and not wasted. Bioethanol, power generation, and liquid carbon dioxide are just a few to mention, but the one I found the most interesting is their horticulture business. Improved sustainability has been achieved through their horticulture business, where the combustion gases from the power station and low grade heat are diverted away from emissions to air and are instead used to enrich the environment inside of greenhouses that produce tomatoes twice as fast as normal. On site, 250,000 tomato plants are grown in the UK's largest single tomato greenhouse spanning an area of 45 acres. 140 million tomatoes are harvested here each year. Unlike other greenhouse tomato growers in the UK, the available and cheap access of heat in December through February from the beet factory enables the greenhouse to produce tomatoes longer and cheaper. Today, their business has become the largest supplier of classic round and specialty salad tomatoes in the UK. Who would have ever guessed sugarbeets and tomatoes? I never would have.