That Beet is Sweet!

June 10, 2008

Did you know that you can get sugar from a beet? Although sugar cane is the crop most often associated with the production of refined sugar, approximately one-quarter of the world's production actually comes from beets. We aren't talking about your garden-variety beet, but instead sugar beets, a crop that is the result of selective breeding of extra-sweet beets.

The sugar beet on the left has a different ancestry from the 'ordinary' beet beside it. A beet used for cattle fodder in the Middle Ages is believed to have been the forerunner of the 'White Silesian', the original beet developed in the 18th century. Today's sugar beets descend from this humble forebear.

In 2006, 314 farms in Canada seeded 19,488 hectares with sugar beets according to the Census of Agriculture. Seeded area was up by 35% compared to the previous Census in 2001, a year in which farmers, faced with expected water shortages and low prices, shifted from sugar beets to other crops.

In 2006, Canadian farmers produced over 1.2 million tonnes of sugar beets, up nearly 80% from 2001. Most of this production took place in Alberta, where 963,000 tonnes of sugar beets were used to produce 124,000 tonnes of beet sugar. An additional 266,000 tonnes of beets were grown in Ontario and exported to Michigan for processing.

The full text of this report is available on the Statistics Canada website.