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The sugar beet harvest so far

14/11/2019 By Ben Eastick in News & updates Market news

The sugar beet harvest is underway across the world, and variant weather conditions have already made a significant impact on beet results.


Although many people believe we import all our sugar from sugar cane abroad, with over 3000 sugar beet growers supporting up to 9500 jobs, the sugar beet sector is certainly an integral part of the agricultural economy.

Mainly grown in the East of England, it is usually used in rotation with other crops such as wheat, barley and oilseed rape. It is used in rotation to help offset the loss of the agrochemical neonicotinoids, but growers have recently suffered a further setback going into 2020, as the herbicide desmedipham has also been withdrawn by the EU commission.

The good news for British farmers is that the early signs of the harvest appear promising, with initial lifting producing high yields. This has lead to predictions of a harvest greater than 2018.


The latest reports from the continent, however, are mixed. As of last Tuesday, the French agricultural ministry, Agreste, has raised its forecast for the country’s 2019/20 sugar beet crop to 37,161,941 tonnes. The latest reports from the German Sugar Association, though, have indicated a cut in its estimate of white sugar production in the 2019/20 campaign, as new data has highlighted that less beet was planted than first thought. The loss of neonicotinoids is considered to be the chief explanation for the lack of planting earlier in the year.

Across eastern Europe, the beet harvest has been underway for some time, and it is now refining season. The latest reports suggest that Ukrainian sugar factories have now processed 7.11 million tonnes of sugar beet into 1,054,400 tonnes of sugar. Ukraine has just under 50 sugar refineries, whereas in the UK, our total number of refineries is in single figures. Thus, the beet production in Ukraine is certainly positive news for the Ukrainian economy but needs to be considered in relation to the size of the industry.


North America

Severe weather has decimated the North American sugar beet harvest. It has been stymied by wet weather throughout the planting phase, as the fields have been too muddy for production equipment to pass through, with this further compounded by recent frozen weather. Last week, in Alberta, Canada, Rogers Sugar Inc announced that the severe weather had been so extreme that a decision was made to terminate the year’s beet harvest.

Red River Valley, which forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota and is the chief beet growing region in the United States, has seen similar problems. This is the first time farmers in the valley have had to quit harvesting beet because of freezing temperatures. Such are the problems caused by the weather, American Crystal Sugar Company announced they would accept frozen beets for a lower price to help meet demand.

The effects on expected harvest have been drastic, with US sugar beet production now expected to total 4.588 million short tonnes, raw value (STRV) during the crop 2019/20 – a significant reduction of 466,000 STRV from last year. The beet harvest is one of the foundations of the economy in the northern states of America, and the effects of the weather on this year’s crop could have significant impacts in the future. Many farmers in the region are planning for the 2020 planting season by cutting off the tops so they can rot in the field, with hopes to plant a different crop and put 2019 behind them.

Beet as a raw material at Ragus

The beet harvest is particularly important to Ragus, as we produce sugar from both cane and beet, making sure we meticulously assess all our suppliers to deliver the best quality products.

It takes approximately seven months from planting to harvest beet, and a more detailed analysis of this process can be found in our learning zone, here. Unlike with cane it is easy to tell early in the beet harvest whether the yield will be successful or not.

So, when sourcing sugar beet, it is vital that we are in tune with the market and current trends. That’s how we form and develop relationships when sourcing beet from our partners in the European continent.

Ben Eastick

A board member and co-leader of the business, Ben is responsible for our marketing strategy and its execution by the agency team he leads and is the guardian of our corporate brand vision. He also manages key customers and distributors.

In 2005, he took on the role of globally sourcing our ‘speciality sugars’. With his background in laboratory product testing and following three decades of supplier visits, his expertise means we get high quality, consistent and reliable raw materials from ethical sources.

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