Growing and Harvesting Sugar

United Sugars takes numerous steps to ensure your sugar supply meets or exceeds your expectations.

Our member-growers are continuously improving their growing practices, including seed-variety, fertilization and crop rotation in order to maximize quality, yield and sustainability. Our processing facilities use eco-friendly, forward-thinking technology to ensure sugar quality and performance — including reclaiming materials and zero-discharge wastewater management programs. From agriculture to processing to distribution, United Sugars and our members incorporate practices to help us reduce our environmental impact.

Sugarbeet producing map

BEET SUGAR...the basics of growing and harvesting

  • Sugar beets have a leafy green top and a large root that contains a high concentration of sucrose.
  • Sugar beets are commercially grown by farmers in temperate climates, including the upper Midwest of the U.S. (United Sugars partners with growers in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.)
  • Sugar beets have a four to six month growing season. In the upper Midwest, beets are planted in the Spring and harvested in the Fall. (Typically, a growing season of at least 100 days is needed for a viable sugar beet crop.)
  • At harvest time, the sugar beet root is often 3 to 5 pounds in weight — 15% to 18% of this weight is sucrose.
  • Once harvested from the ground by farm equipment, the beets are brought to nearby factories by trucks. The factories pile and freeze the beets to protect their sugar content.
  • The beet processing plants operate 24/7. The basic sugar production steps include washing, slicing, and extracting the sugar-rich juice. The juice then goes through additional refining and drying steps, resulting in pure, crystallized sugar.

Sugarbeet producing map

CANE SUGAR...the basics of growing and harvesting

  • U.S. sugar cane is a giant grass (reaching heights of 14 feet) often commercially grown by farmers in tropical climates, including the extreme southern U.S. and Gulf area. (United Sugars primarily works with growers in Florida.)
  • Cane sugar is often grown year-round, with most of the growth occurring during summer's tropical rains — plants can grow an inch a day during the "grand growth season."
  • At harvest time, mechanical harvesters automatically cut the stalks into foot long sections and load them into field-wagons which transport the crop to railroad transfer stations. The cane is then brought by railcar to local mills for processing.
  • The cane is sent through a series of mills where it is crushed, and the juice extracted. Once the juice is extracted; the processes to refine sugar are identical to the sugar beet production steps.