How We Make Sugar
Sugar Beet Handling
Sugar beets are harvested in mid-to-late autumn when sugar content peaks.
The leafy sugar beet tops are sliced off and the roots are lifted out of the ground with special harvesting equipment.
The harvested sugar beets are trucked from the field to one of 38 receiving stations where they are weighed, sampled and tested for sugar quality, unloaded and piled.
The sugar beets are stored in long trapezoid-shaped piles. Some of the sugar beet piles have large culverts running underneath them. At end of the culverts are fans that blow cold winter air through the culverts to cool down and freeze the piles to better preserve the sugar contained in the beets. Other piles are stored in large sheds which use similar culvert technology to freeze the stored sugar beets.
The sugar beets are trucked from outside receiving stations to factories throughout the processing campaign for sugar processing.
The following processes are controlled through state-of-the-art computerized flow and monitoring systems. The systems are operated from a central control room to optimize operations throughout the many functional areas of the factory.
Sugar beets entering the factory must first go through a washing process. A large paddle wheel lifts the sugar beets to the washers, where they are rolled against each other in water, removing dirt and debris. This water then goes to a holding pond or wastewater facility for treatment.
After washing, the sugar beets enter the slicer where razor-sharp, corrugated knives cut the sugar beets into long, white, french-fry looking strings called cossettes. They are then transported to the cossette mixer where they are mixed with hot juice and pumped into the bottom of the diffuser.
In the diffuser, the sugar is diffused out of the sugar beet cossettes by using very hot water. The raw beet sugar juice stays in the lower part of the diffuser while the remaining sugar beet cossette pulp moves up and out of the top of the diffuser.
The pulp goes through a separate process where it is put into presses, which squeeze out most of the water. Then it is heat-dried in huge drying systems before it is pressed into beet pulp pellets as livestock feed.
The raw sugar juice leaves the bottom of the diffuser to go through several purifying and filtering steps. During this process the raw juice is clarified and filtered to remove impurities, remaining solids and fine particles.
Through a series of evaporators, the juice is heated with steam to evaporate the natural water and filtered once more, concentrating it into dark caramel syrup.
The syrup then enters the crystallization process. The sugar juice syrup is carefully boiled and seeded with microscopic sugar crystals to start the crystallization process. When the crystals reach their desired size, a rich mixture of crystals and beet molasses syrup is formed.
The sugar crystals are separated from the beet molasses syrup in a large, high-speed spinning drum or centrifuge. These crystals are now 99.9% pure white sugar. The crystals move into the granulator where they are then dried, cooled and separated according to size.
The remaining molasses syrup still contains some sugar, which is claimed through additional processes called molasses desugarization. The remaining beet molasses ends up as liquid agri-product used as a livestock feed additive.
The granulated sugar is then advanced to huge storage silos. Most of the sugar is shipped by train in bulk railcars to manufacturers as a primary ingredient for candy, baked goods, cereals, and other fine products.
Sugar for grocery stores is packaged into bags that range from 2 pounds to 25 pounds. The automatic packaging lines can fill 4-pound bags at a rate of more than 2 bags per second. A portion of our sugar is finely ground to make powdered sugar while another portion of the sugar is turned into light brown and dark brown sugar.
Take a look at our agri-products, industrial sugar products, and retail sugar products pages to learn more about the products we make.