Construction of a sugar beet processing plant would be a sweet addition to the Chemical Valley, says Mark Lumley, chair of the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers’ Association.
Lumley said the groundwork is being laid for the $100-million project, and he believes the former Dow Chemical site in Sarnia would be the ideal location.
A $100,000 federal grant is being used to study the plant’s viability and networking is underway to build support with the Michigan Sugar Cooperative.
Farmers in southwestern Ontario are currently growing 10,000 acres of the root crop, a figure that could triple if the plan comes to fruition, he said.
Presently, beets are trucked across the St. Clair River for processing in Michigan.
Canada is the only developed nation that doesn’t have its own source of sugar feedstock, which currently comes from the Caribbean and South America.
“We shouldn’t have to import,” Lumley said.
The Dow site would a great location for a processing plant because it already has a ready access to power, water and rail and highway infrastructure.
“It … is the ideal place to start in Canada,” he said. “On the world stage we can be as competitive as anyone.”
A processing plant also makes sense in terms of Sarnia’s push for bio-industrial diversity.
“It fits nicely,” Lumley said, noting the plant’s waste products could be used as feedstock for other foods and fuels.
The grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada is funding a five-year study into the viability of a processing plant and its potential byproducts, such as ethanol, butanol and succinic acid.
The work is being carried out at the Bio-Industrial Process Research Centre at Lambton College.
Lumley said it would be the “right and obligation” of sugar beet growers to dedicate one acre of the crop to help pay for the capital project.
A big plus of growing the root crop is the high return on investment for farmers, between $300 and $500 more per acre than Lambton County’s traditional corn and soybean crops, he said.
Sugar beets are also disease and pest resistant and use less nitrogen than traditional cash crops.