PLANT PILE

The Lantic Sugar plant is running hard now as the sugar beet harvest is in full swing. Here on Oct. 12, trucks from the area were coming directly to the plant. Later on, larger semi trailers will be hired to bring the beets from pilers in such areas like Bow Island, Coaldale and Vauxhall to name a few.

Sugar from “field to table” starts with sunlight, according to the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers (ASBG). One of the crops that contains sugar are sugar beets. Currently, sugar beets are grown in Alberta, as they require cooler temperatures. Historically, the crop has been grown across the country.

Alberta sugar beets are harvested and processed into granulated sugar at the Roger's Sugar Factory in Taber. This is the only sugar beet plant left in Canada and the sole source of 100 per cent Canadian sugar. The sugar produced from the Taber plant has a black stamp on the package that starts with the number “22.” Look for that stamp to help support local farmers produce Canadian sugar.

According to the ASBG, the types of sugar created from sugar beets include pure sucrose in granulated and liquid form and specialty sugars including icing sugar. Leaves and tops of sugar beets are also removed after harvesting and used as livestock feed. Sugar beet pulp is used to produce a highly nutritious animal feed or is further processed for use as fibre.

Annually, the ASBG offers southern Albertans a chance to tour the Taber factory to experience firsthand how sugar beets are transformed into sweet goodness. This year's tour was held Oct. 18, as participants first headed to the sugar beet fields and then embarked on the Taber facility tour. Participants also had to don the proper safety protocol attire too – which included a smock, safety goggles, hair and beard nets, a hard hat and latex gloves.

Mark Harding, maintenance supervisor, said the quick tour consists of visiting packaging areas and the control room. This allows participants to get a real feel of how much processing and packaging is done locally and where the completed product is sent through exports – which include Mexico and the United States. He added approximately 20,000 tonne of sugar is sent to Mexico each year.

As for the liquid sugar, product is purchased by some of Alberta's biggest companies including Coke and Saputo.

Harding noted the tour gives participants a sense of what happens to local beets. “And show them what actually happens after the beets get dug out of the ground,” he said.

Melody Garner-Skiba, executive director of ASBG, said the tour is organized purely because the ASBG is proud of having the only sugar beet industry in Canada.

“Where we grow the sugar beets and we refine the sugar beets to make 100 per cent sugar. For us, we just really want the chance to be able to educate people about the industry and what the importance is and the impact it has on southern Alberta,” she said, adding the tour is held once a year during harvest time.

“We want to give that full 'from field to factory' experience. Right from the field to the end product – that bag of sugar people are seeing in their home,” she said, adding this year's tour had students from the University of Lethbridge, which is “great to see that next generation learning more about agriculture,” she noted.

One of the southern Alberta dignitaries on the tour this year was Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow, who noted it was his first time visiting the Taber facility. “I've driven by it countless times, but never actually stopped by and got a chance to look around and see what's what,” he said.

Schow said it's pretty remarkable visiting a plant such as Roger's. “You get a chance to have an even greater respect than you already have about the ag industry and for where our food comes from.”

“Going in and touring around and seeing the men and women and the important work they do - it really gives some good perspective as to how important these kind of factories are to southern Alberta and how they are important to the rest of the province and Canada,” Schow added.

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