By Tim Kalinowski
During a recent Open Farm Days, the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers hosted a special event at the Hofsink farm near Coaldale to introduce the public to the local sugar beet industry and to provide information and insight into local agriculture.
“I think we just thought it was important to increase transparency within the local agricultural industry,” said ASBG special projects co-ordinator Kelli Ober, “and show people first hand what they are looking at on the highways. It’s just kind of nice to teach people, the younger generation and older, about what they are curious about in agriculture to give them a fun, learning experience.”
The event took place beside a beet field, and featured equipment, treats and information about how this root crop gets taken from the field and transformed into white table sugar and various value-added products after being refined at the Lantic Sugar plant in Taber.
“It shows it’s really not that hard to support local farmers as they might think once they know what they can find and where they can find it,” said Ober. “They then also know who they are supporting and they can put a face to it.”
The Hofsink family has been farming sugar beets in southern Alberta for over six decades. Current owners Ron and Jackie Hofsink have been in the family business themselves for the past 30 years. While challenges remain for local beet growers, Jackie Hofsink felt there is greater market certainty now than in previous years.
“It has only been in the last few years that we have been able to negotiate more long term contracts (with Lantic),” she said. “Before that, it has always been one-time contracts.
“As sugar beet producers, we never felt confident to invest a lot of money in equipment because you never knew if you were actually going to have beets the next year. Even though beets have produced here for decades, we never had anything on paper (with Lantic).
“Now we are confident Lantic is here for the long term,” she affirmed. “We have a three-year contract, and they want to invest in the industry and they want to stay in the area.”
Hofsink explained having a sole-source contract with only one sugar company has forced local beet growers to team up and get creative to control costs and risks.
“It’s a very narrow industry,” she confirmed, “and that’s why some of us (growers) equipment share so it is more economical at harvest time. It is still our most valuable crop. So for us what sugar beets mean is partly to make ends meet, and it is also about our way of life— everything surrounds the beets.”
Hofsink said she and her husband agreed to host the ASBG Open Farm Days event because she feels a greater long term concern for her industry is the growing disconnect between an increasingly urbanized Canadian population and its farmers.
“We want to people in town to be exposed to the truths about agriculture so they could be more familiar with where their food comes from,” she said. “People can come out here and have a hands on experience and actually talk to the people who produce (the beets), and learn about what it means to us and how we do it.
“I think most people who come out have never been in a sugar beet field before.”
Hofsink said it is encouraging that many people who came out to the event seemed to realize there was a strong association between southern Alberta and its sugar beet industry.
“A lot the questions we get is about history,” she confirmed. “They know a lot about it because sugar beets have been in southern Alberta for years and years.
“It makes you feel proud, and it’s good to know you are a viable part of southern Alberta. You are contributing to the economy, and to maintaining a way of life.”