Quick Profits from Organic Sugar: Deforestation is the Way


Organic Sugar Mill, Paraguay

Most organic sugar used in US foods comes from sugarcane crops grown in Paraguay. When converting an existing field to organic, a company needs to wait three years since the last pesticide spray was made before being certified as organic. With a desire for large profits, sugar companies are clearing forests so that sugarcane fields can be immediately certified as organic.

“The Ybytymi hills of eastern Paraguay are crowded with mango trees, palms, and gnarled cacti.

It’s one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, home to jaguars, tapirs, a plethora of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 500 species of birds.

In a remote area known as Isla Alta, the forest abruptly halts at the edge of sugar fields. The land belongs to a company called Azucarera Paraguaya (AZPA), one of the country’s chief sugar producers and the supplier of nearly one-third of the organic sugar consumed in the United States. If you’ve ever eaten a bowl of Cascadian Farm breakfast cereal or had a glass of Silk soy milk, you’ve probably enjoyed some of its harvest.

Organic producers have little incentive not to clear land, says Laura Raynolds, codirector of the Center for Fair and Alternative Trade Studies at Colorado State University.

This dynamic was evident when I visited Paraguay, where AZPA has been looking for additional land to grow more organic cane to feed the American market. Converting its conventionally farmed fields to organic would take three years, during which it would have to use more expensive organic methods on “transitional” crops that must be sold at the lower conventional price. A more attractive approach is to establish new fields where forest once grew; then, the cane can fetch the higher organic price from the first harvest.”

Author: Rogers, H.
Affiliation: Journalist.
Title: Sweet & lowdown organic
Source: Mother Jones. May/June 2010. Pgs. 58-59, 79.

More Sugar from Michigan Thanks to Fungicides

Fungicides: Used (left); Not Used (right)

Fungicides: Used (left); Not Used (right) (Rhizoctonia Control)

Rhizoctonia root rot is a serious disease problem in several sugarbeet-growing regions, with the result sometimes being dramatic—and expensive—reductions in tonnage and quality. Low levels of infections can easily cause yield losses in excess of a ton per acre while high infection levels can cut yields by more than 10 tons per acre. The quality of surviving beets can also be impacted, sometimes resulting in significant losses in recoverable sugar.

“During 2009 and 2010, the Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement Initiative established a study to determine the efficacy and economic impact of various application strategies for the use of Quadris flowable fungicide to control Rhizoctonia root rot.

On average (four trials in each of two years), even with low to moderate levels of Rhizoctonia infection, the per-acre net return of Quadris over the check trials ranged from $94 to $209, depending on the rate, timing and method used. The best treatment in these trials improved recoverable sugar per ton by 14 pounds and percent sugar by 0.7%. Even the “worst” treatment increased RST by 8 pounds and sugar content by 0.3%.”

Authors: Poindexter, S., and Wenzel, T.
Affiliation: Michigan Sugarbeet Advancement, Michigan State University
Title: Rhizoctonia control with quadris—update on Michigan research.
Source: The Sugarbeet Grower. April/May 2011. Pgs. 16-17.

Highest Sugarbeet Yields Ever in the UK Thanks to Fungicides

Where Sugar Comes From

Where Sugar Comes From

The sugarbeet industry expanded dramatically in the UK in the 1920s to make Britain more self-sufficient in sugar production after severe shortages in World War 1 and after it lost most of its sugar-producing colonies. Until the introduction of new fungicides in the 1990s, UK sugarbeet growers relied on sulfur sprays for controlling diseases. The new fungicides provide better disease control and have a direct physiological effect on the plants which leads to higher yields. Refining the spray schedule with these new fungicides has resulted in the highest sugarbeet yields ever in the UK.

“In 2011, the UK sugar industry celebrated its highest ever national yield of 75.6 t/ha. A number of factors contributed to this excellent achievement, but a major contributor was the widespread and appropriate use of fungicide spray regimes across the vast majority of the sugar beet crop. These products control diseases including powdery mildew and rust, but also provide physiological benefits such as green leaf retention and early frost protection.”

Authors: Stevens, M., and E. Burks.
Affiliation: Rothamsted Research-Broom’s Barn
Title: Fungicide strategies for maximizing yield potential: lessons from 2011.
Source: British Sugar Beet Review. Summer, 2012. 80[2]:10-13.

Fungal Growth on Sugarbeet Leaves Would Lower U.S. Sugar Production

Fungicide Treatment (Left: Treated - Right: Untreated)

Fungicide Treatment (Left: Treated – Right: Untreated)

The Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota is a major sugarbeet production area. About ½ of U.S. sugar comes from sugarbeets. A disease on the leaves damages the plant’s ability to produce extractable sucrose in the roots. Fungicides kill the fungus before the damage is done to the plants.

“Cercospora leaf spot is the most economically damaging foliar disease of sugarbeet in Minnesota and North Dakota. The disease reduces root yield and sucrose concentration, and increases impurity concentrations resulting in reduced extractable sucrose and higher processing losses.”

“It is difficult to combine high levels of Cercospora leaf spot resistance with high recoverable sucrose in sugarbeet. Consequently, commercial varieties generally have only moderate levels of resistance and require fungicide applications to obtain acceptable levels of protection against Cercospora leaf spot under moderate and high disease severity.”

Authors: M.F.R. Khan1 and A.L. Carlson2
1North Dakota State University & University of Minnesota; 2Plant Pathology Department, North Dakota State University
Title: Efficacy of fungicides for controlling Cercospora leaf spot on sugarbeet.
Publication: Sugarbeet Research & Education Board of Minnesota and North Dakota. 2011 Research report available at: http://www.sbreb.org/Research/research.htm.

Organic Sugar Production in Mauritius Derailed Due to Weed Problems

Sugarcane is the major crop in Mauritius. Weeds are usually controlled with herbicides. In the early 1990s, three sugar processing firms in Mauritius decided to grow organic sugarcane without the use of herbicides. However, the weed problems led to the curtailment of organic production. At the time of this article’s publication, there was still one organic producer; today, we have discovered there are no organic sugar companies operating in Mauritius.

“Organic sugar production started in Mauritius in 1992 after it was realized that a demand existed in Europe. … As the use of herbicides is not permitted in fields under organic crop production, manual weeding had to be resorted to. In view of the acute labour shortage and the increasing cost of labour, this item was a major contributor to the costs of production and one of the main sources of discouragement for producers who generally do not like to see their fields infested by weeds. Manual weeding is also known to be ineffective.”

“Although alternative methods of weed control exist, they could not be envisaged in the Mauritian context. Using a flame applicator would represent a fire hazard because of the presence of dry trash in the field, and weeding by mechanical means is not convenient because of the rocky nature of the soil. Weed control in the fields under organic cane was therefore not carried out to the same extent as it is in conventionally grown cane. … Owing to these constraints, producers gradually lost interest in organic sugar and only one estate, out of the three originally, is still involved.”

Author: J Deville
Affiliation: Mauritius Sugar Industry Research Institute, Reduit, Mauritius
Title: Organic sugar production – the Mauritian experience.
Publication: Proceedings of the XXIII International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists (ISSCT) Congress. February 22-26, 1999, New Delhi, India.