A Tale of Three Seasons
Tom Astrup, President
At American Crystal Sugar, we process sugarbeets longer than any other sugarbeet processor in the world. Our campaigns typically start in late August and end in the middle of May; with the occasional campaign extending into June. This year is no exception. Our campaign started on August 20 and is currently scheduled to wrap up at the Drayton factory about May 15.
One of the challenges of running a sugarbeet plant is that the quality of the incoming product changes frequently. The sugar content, level of impurities in the beets, amount of dirt “tare” in the beets and the temperature of the beets all require adjustments by factory personnel to optimize slice rate and sugar extraction. In a bigger picture, there are really three seasons. The first season is the fall, which we refer to as fresh beets. The beets during this time period are cool, but not frozen, and very high in purity. This is the time period we see our highest slice rates and highest levels of sugar extraction. This past year our daily average slice rate routinely averaged over 40,000 tons per day and sugar recovery was around 300 pounds per ton of sugarbeets during this time period. The first picture is of nice, white, French fry style cossettes produced from fresh beets.
The second season is what we often refer to as the “dip”. This is the mid-winter period of time when we are processing the last of our unventilated sugarbeet piles. The level of impurities in the sugarbeets increases, making processing more difficult. In a cold winter, this dip can be almost non-existent. In a warm winter like we’ve had this year, the dip can cover an extended period of time and be quite severe. Our dip this year started in early December and continued until late February. Our daily average slice rates declined to the 35,000 – 37,000 tons per day range and sugar recovery declined to less than 270 pounds per tons sliced. The second picture is of a beet commonly seen during the “dip” period. You will notice the beet is a little more yellow than white, and contains some evidence of rot.
The third season is frozen beets. That is the season we are in now. The beets we are processing were piled over ventilation and frozen by blowing cold air through the pile. Many of the piles are insulated and tarped once frozen, to keep them frozen into May. While there is nearly always a challenging transition to the colder beets and the changes in cuttings required to process them, the frozen beets ultimately bring a rebound in both slice rate and sugar recovery. The rebound is the result of higher purities, as the quality of the beets was locked in at the time of freezing. Neither slice rate nor sugar recovery rebound to fresh beet levels, but certainly better than the “dip” period. Again, this year is no exception, as we have seen slice rate improve to the 37,000 – 38,000 tons per day range and sugar extraction improve to around 290 pounds per ton sliced. The third picture shows the thicker cossettes that are required to be cut from frozen beets. They resemble more of very thick cut potato chips, than French fries.
Occasionally, we end up with a fourth season, which is when excessively warm temperatures cause the frozen beets to thaw. This can cause a second dip in our processing results. We are hoping the current weather pattern will change so that does not happen this year.