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A sweet fall: Alberta Sugar Beet Growers host annual harvest tour

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WATCH ABOVE: It's a pretty sweet time of year in southern Alberta with sugar beets ready to come out of the ground. Jessica Robb has more from the annual harvest tour – Oct 8, 2021

Sugar beets are a booming business in southern Alberta and with the season coming to a close later this month, the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers shared its sweet knowledge on Friday’s harvest tour.

“I love the industry. I’m allergic to grain and dust, so this is the only place I don’t sneeze,” laughed Gary Tokariuk, president of Alberta Sugar Beet Growers.

Tokariuk is also a third-generation farmer. His grandfather bought their farmland in 1928, where he started growing sugar beets about 20 years later.

Read more: Alberta Sugar Beet Growers pushing for federal sugar policy

Sugar beets are used to make refined sugar. But as the industry evolves, so are the ways we use the beets.

“We’re looking at new uses, like protein from the leaves,” said Tokariuk. “So there’s a lot of new uses that we’re looking at to try and expand the acres and produce more beets.”

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For Indiana Ham, a 10-year-old from Edmonton who came with her mom, it was her first time seeing a sugar beet.

“When she told me that I was going to try a sugar beet I was really excited because I’ve never seen one before,” said Ham.

Read more: Lethbridge College researcher receives more than $230K for sugar beet project

Ham was eager to sample a raw sugar beet during the tour.

“When we were taking samples I got a second try and I picked the biggest one on there,” she said. “They’re like eating a carrot but then it’s sweet. It doesn’t have that carrot taste. It’s crunchy but sweet.”

Each season Tokariuk plants around 52,000 beets per acre on his 135 acre field, which yields around seven million beets.

And that’s only a portion from the province. According to the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers, over 900,000 tonnes of sugar beets were delivered last year. Almost double from the 465,018 tonnes in 2019.

Read more: Severe drought in Alberta brings on early harvest

Despite the drought that hit Alberta this year, Tokariuk is optimistic. His land is irrigated. They were allocated 16 inches of water this summer, which was applied with a pivot.

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“If you went to the dry corner where the end gun doesn’t get, you’ll see what happens,” he said. “There’s no beets there. So [water is] very important. We made it this year with our allocation.”

Sugar beets are persistent once planted. A farmer’s biggest fear is frost.

“Once you get it past the frost and everything, you can’t kill a beet,” laughed Tokariuk. “So once they’re up and going, it’s great. You have all the hardship to get them going, but once they’re going then you’re away.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no factory tour included in the annual sugar beet harvest tour.

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