Beet Harvesting - The sugar beets processed in Canada are grown and harvested in Taber, Alberta. The beets are harvested from September until early November. The leaves and tops are removed after harvesting, and the growers transport the beet roots that are in good condition to one of the sugar beet receiving stations. The beets are stockpiled outdoors using specialized equipment, where they are held for up to 175 days awaiting processing. The beets are then transported by truck to the sugar beet processing plant.
Beet Preparation - The beets are carried into the factory in a water flume. Rocks and weeds are removed prior to the beets being washed. The roots of the washed beets are then sliced into thin noodle-like strips called cossettes, which are sent to the extraction system.
Sugar Extraction and Purification - The cossettes are soaked with hot water to remove the sugar juice. The juice is first purified by precipitating the impurities using lime and carbon dioxide, then removing them through filtration.
Much like cane sugar processing, the purified juice is concentrated by boiling under vacuum to remove much of the water through evaporation, resulting in a thick sugar syrup. Sugar is crystallized from the concentrated solution, then spun in centrifugal machines (like washing machines) to separate the pure sugar crystals from the syrup. The crystals are then dried and stored in silos until packaged or shipped in bulk to customers.
Sugar Beet Processing By-Products - Many of the materials left over from the production of beet sugar are recycled and reused. The leaves and tops of sugar beets are removed after harvesting and used as livestock feed. Sugar beet residue, or pulp, is used to produce a highly nutritious animal feed or is further processed for use as fibre or other products.
Much of the water removed through sugar beet processing still contains sugar, so it is pumped back into the system to be used again. Molasses is recycled through the sugar beet processing cycle an average of four times to remove the maximum amount of sugar. Molasses is also used by distillers, bakers and pharmaceutical companies.
For more detailed information on sugar beet harvesting and processing, please visit Lantic Inc.
Also see CSI resource Clips on Sugar - Sugar From Plant to Food and infographic Sugar: From Field to Table.