Sugar beet industry helping to drive southern Alberta economy

WATCH: Alberta's economy has struggled in recent years because of a downturn in the oil and gas sector. But the downturn hasn't been felt as strongly in southern Alberta thanks to the sugar beet industry.

Did you know that southern Alberta is the only source of 100 per cent Canadian sugar in the country?

The sugar beet industry has been unique to the area for decades, with many farm families going back three or four generations.

Alberta’s economy has struggled in recent years because of a downturn in the oil and gas sector. But thanks to the sugar beet business in southern Alberta, the surrounding area hasn’t felt these effects as severely. The sweet beets generate, on average, $32.3 million in farm receipts a year.

READ MORE: What’s in the Field campaign shines a light on Alberta’s sugar beet industry

Sugar beet producers and investors attended a one-day symposium at the Sandman Hotel in Lethbridge on Wednesday to talk about sustainability and growth for current and future sugar beet farmers.

Sugar beets processed and refined at the plant in Taber, Alta., account for about eight to 10 per cent of the sugar sold within Canada. The Alberta Sugar Beet Growers want to see this number grow, but the Taber processing plant is already operating at maximum capacity.

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“We’ve been at 28,000 acres for the past three years… so they’d have to make some investment into the plant to raise that cap,” said Arnie Bergen-Henengouwen, president of the ASBG.

READ MORE: Alberta sugar beet farmers expect a sweet 2017 season

Researchers are also continuing to develop new varieties of sugar beets to increase root yield and sugar content, testing them for farming in southern Alberta specifically.

Peter Regitnig, a research agronomist, says that researchers continue to work on developing a “higher-quality beet for the factory and more sugar per acre for the growers.”

Buying local is a growing trend in Alberta and beyond, as people become more conscious of where their food comes from and how it’s made. The ASBG has been using the hashtag #absugar22 to promote its own homegrown sweetener.

Shoppers who buy a Rogers Sugar product whose identifier number begins with 22 will know that their sugar came from the Taber plant, meaning they’re helping to support more than 200 local farm families.

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