By Tim Kalinowski
Alta. Newspaper Group
Last year weather was the primary challenge to getting the sugar beet harvest off, with early frosts leading to a huge loss on planted acres. This year, says Alberta Sugar Beet Growers executive director Melody Garner-Skiba, it is COVID-19 which is casting a shadow over an otherwise bountiful harvest.
“It is in the back of everybody’s mind,” she acknowledges, “especially because the harvest window seems to shorten and we have got to get a lot of tonnes out of the ground in a short period of time. We can’t do that if people are sick. We have been impressed with everyone’s vigilance so far, and making sure everyone is doing their part to try to make sure we keep COVID at bay so we can get harvest off.”
Lantic Sugar based in Taber has worked closely with the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers to cover as many bases as they can in that regard.
“Lantic has been really vigilant about COVID, and doing so many preventative measures,” says Garner-Skiba. “There was actually a COVID strategy for harvest time developed between Lantic and us here at ASBG, which involved protocols right from the farm through to the factory.
“At the factory,” she adds, “they have implemented a lot more screening processes, and employee temperature checks. On the piling grounds, these screening checks are also happening, and people have been grouped in cohorts, for sure. We have also adjusted how we handle scale tickets, and tear sample tickets, so it is all contactless at this point. There has been a lot of thought and strategy put into to ensure we can mitigate the (COVID) risk as much as possible.”
After witnessing localized outbreaks at Cavendish Farms potato processing plant and Meridian Manufacturing in Lethbridge earlier this month, on top of other outbreaks at various food-processing plants witnessed earlier this spring, Garner-Skiba said the watchword in the local ag industry is “vigilance.”
“It’s really important for the agriculture industry that everyone is working together to help prevent the spread of COVID,” she says.
As for this year’s harvest of locally grown sugar beets, and locally produced Canadian sugar, Garner-Skiba says signs are positive for excellent production this year.
“Our sugar content so far has been phenomenal,” she confirms. “We’re saying ranges of 20 per cent plus, which is just fantastic, and typically unheard of. Yields are really solid; so overall it is looking to be a really positive year. We are now probably at about 70 per cent harvested overall.”
There is certainly more to do, acknowledges Garner-Skiba, but still, it’s a lot better than last year’s harvest wreck already when local farmers were only able to get a total of 55 per cent of the crop out of the ground before writing off the rest.
“We have about that 30 per cent left in the ground,” she explains. “It is something we are mindful of, especially with the frost conditions projected in the forecast. It is something we are keeping an eye on because we want to get as many beets out as possible.”