1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > Sugar Beet

(Part 74)


Sugar Beet

The Silesian white beet has long been cultivated in various states of continental Europe for the production of sugar, and in several of them is now a staple product of very great value and importance. After several abortive attempts to introduce this industry into our own country, it seems at last to have obtained a firm footing in England through the enterprise and perseverance of Mr James Duncan, sugar-refiner, of Mincing Lane, London, who five years ago erected the necessary buildings and machinery at Lavenham, in Suffolk. Through the kindness of Mr Duncan we are enabled to submit to our readers the following details regarding this most interesting enterprise.

The sugar factory at Lavenham was erected in 1868, although not completed until February 1869. Mr Duncan had first of all contacted with various farmers in that neighbourhood to grow beet for him at the price of 20s. per ton of clean roots, delivered at his factory, with the option to the growers of receiving back the resulting pulp at 12s. per ton, if removed as made. Mr Duncan also procured from the continent the necessary supplies of seed of the best sort, and furnished the growers with instructions as to the proper mode of cultivation. In growing mangolds farmers try to grow the largest possible weight per acre, and for this purpose they manure heavily, and give the individual plants ample space. This will not do in the case of sugar-beet, as it is found that small rootts are richest in sugar, and that 2 _ lb each is the best size to aim at. The endeavour, therefore, must be to have the roots small individually, and yet to secure a good weight per acre. As the part of the bulb that grows above ground contains very little sugar, a further object is to have as little of it exposed to light as possible. All this is accomplished by sowing the crop in rows about 16 inches apart, and leaving the plants close to each other. If all is well managed, the crop should yield from 15 to 20 tons of cleaned roots per acre. The delivery of the roots at the factory begins about the end of September, when they are carted direct from the field as they are pulled. The exigencies of wheat-sowing and other field labour at that season induce the growers to store a considerable part of their beet crop at home, and to deliver it at the factory from time to time as they can overtake this heavy cartage. The roots lose weight rapidly when kept in clamps, to cover which a little extra price is given as the season advances. The convenience of the growers is much furthered by this arrangement; but it sometimes results in irregular supplies, and consequent loss to the manufacturer.

Owing to the extreme drought of 1868 the beet was late in being sown, and the crop was small, amounting only to 1200 tons; but it was exceedingly rich in sugar. The following season was moist, and the yield per acre good, but the area under crop was small, and the total quantity delivered at the factory about 3000 tons. The year 1870 was again an extremely hot and dry one, with a gross produce of 4500 tons, which yielded 12 per cent. of syrup. The produce in 1871 was 6000 tons, yielding 10 per cent. of syrup, and that of 1872 exceeded 7000 tons of very good roots; but the wetness of the season and strikes among the labourers so protracted the factory work, that instead of being completed in December it was prolonged until March, and the percentage of sugar was smaller than it ought to have been. The particulars of this last crop are s follows. The total weight of clean roots from 571 acres was -

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So that with a total average of 13 _ tons per acre, two-thirds of the crop averaged 15 tons, and the remaining third only 9_ tons. The proportion of feeding pulp has been large in 1871 and 1872, _both having been moist seasons,_and has been 22 per cent. of the weight of the roots. In 1870 it was only 19 per cent. The details of the disposal of the pulp from crop 1872 are also interesting. Of 1235 tons of pulp purchased by nine farmers

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In addition to these quantities sold, about 500 tons were stored at the factory, where at the same time about 100 tons of crop 1871 were still on hand, and in excellent condition. To this latter fact we can add our own testimony, having been favoured by Mr Duncan with a sample of it after it had been eighteen months in store, when we found it perfectly sweet and good, retaining unimpaired the taste and smell of fresh beet-root. The mode of storing the pulp is very simple. On a piece of dry ground a trench is dug out about 7 feet wide and 1 foot deep. Into this trench the pulp is firmly trodden by the feet of the labourers, and gradually drawn to a point, precisely as is done in storing roots. The whole is then covered with earth to the depth of 12 inches; and thus stored, the pulp keeps well for two or three years. In using it, a thin crust from the outsides is rejected. In Germany and Austria tanks of brick-work are used to economise space, but not in France or Belgium. Three tons of this pulp are estimated to be equal in feeding value to one ton of good hay. Hitherto farmers give the preference to fresh-made pulp; but Mr Duncan regards this as quite a mistake, as in his own practice he finds that pulp a year old is a better feeding material than when newly made. In 1872 he fattened 50 cattle on pulp three years old, and in the summer of 1873 he had 60 cattle consuming the surplus of the previous season. These cattle (27 yearlings and 33 two-year-olds) consumed daily 35 cwt. of pulp and 4 cwt. of cut chaff(of hay and barley straw) mixed together. The older beasts received daily in addition 7 lb each of bean-meal, on which ration they made good progress. To meet the cartage difficulty, Mr Duncan contracted that year (1873) with one grower to perform the haulage of 2000 tons of beet roots a distance of 5 miles by a traction engine.

Several joint-stock companies have been formed for prosecuting this industry, but Mr Duncan’s is the only factory as yet in actual operation. It is known also that Mr Lawes and Dr Gilbert have for several years been engaged in extensive experiments on sugar-beet, and with most successful results.

The manufacture of sugar from beet-root has attained to very great dimensions on the continent of Europe. It is known that from the crop of 1872 there has been produced 1,025,000 tons of sugar, worth £24 per ton, and 250,000 tons of molasses, worth £3 per ton, and that new factories, some of them on a gigantic scale, are now in course of erection. A most important fact connected with this rapidly-extending industry is that the erection of a sugar factory is immediately accompanied by an improvement in the agriculture, and an increase in the value of the land, of the surrounding district. In many places farmers gladly contract to supply beet-root at 18s. per ton for ten years, on condition that they receive back pulp in fair proportion to the quantity of root supplied by them. Russia produces the finest quality of beet, instances being known in which the roots yielded 10 per cent. of loaf-sugar. There are good grounds for concluding that Russia will at no very distant date take a prominent place as a sugar producing country.

There seems at present a reasonable prospect that the cultivation of sugar-beet will be adopted in various parts of our own country. It has already been proved that the bee grown in the south-eastern counties of England is richer in sugar than that produced in the north of France. And it seems well worth while to ascertain, by careful experiment, whether in certain parts of Scotland, such as the Lothians, Fife, and the carses, sugar-beet could not with advantage be substituted for the precarious and exhausting potato crop. The repeal of the sugar-duty would give a great stimulus to this enterprise, and should be pressed for in the interest of our native agriculture.

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