Every year, around 7.5 million tonnes of sugar beet are grown in Britain, ready to become British sugar. The process that takes it from the fields and into the coffee cups, sweet treats and sugar bowls of homes across the country, and even across the globe, is a great story of British agriculture that deserves to be shared.
Sugar Beet: A Popular Crop
Aside from being a valuable commodity, sugar beet is popular with farmers due to the many other benefits that it can bring to a farm. It can help to bring down the number of pests and the amount of disease, having a positive impact on other plants, while the 5-month October to February harvesting period allows farm work to be spread throughout the year when it is grown alongside other crops.
For sugar beet, sowing will usually occur during March and April, although farmers are able to be flexible should weather conditions prove uncooperative. As soon as planting has taken place, Nitrogen is used to fertilise the crops, which are then left to grow throughout the summer.
The Harvesting Process
After the sugar beet is harvested throughout the autumn and winter, it goes through complex processing, with the final product – the sugar that we all recognise – needing to be extracted from the beet; this is achieved by diffusing it through hot water. It then needs to be purified using lime and carbon dioxide, producing a liquid solution: finally, water is evaporated off and the sugar is left to crystallise.
This is where the silos come in: the raw sugar is sent to large silos, some of which can hold as much as 50,000 tonnes, ready to be distributed. While this may be the storage stage, it is far from the end of the process; sugar is contained in the silos both because it is produced in such large quantities, and because it needs to be well-monitored to avoid it clumping together.
Looking after the sugar while it is being stored in the silos is an important task which must be carried out throughout the harvesting period, with measures being taken to avoid and remove build-ups, as well as keep track of how much sugar remains to aid distributors – all ready to get high-quality British sugar onto the shelves.
In this way, the silos become a symbol of a great British crop: one which has proved vital for farmers, manufacturers and consumers alike.