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Sugar industry provides students 'sweet' opportunities

December 2, 2021

There are many opportunities for students interested in a career involved in agriculture.

“Our industry loves college students!” said Luther Markwart of the American Sugar Alliance. There are many opportunities for students interested in a sweet, and yet, fulfilling career involved in agriculture. There are many opportunities for college students to work in the sugar industry whether students are looking for internships or full-time positions within the processing facilities, agronomy division, research assistance, and support staff in Minnesota or to explore a different state.

Markwart’s advice is to college students is, “work hard, stay in school, get good grades and have fun.” Companies are ready to help college students in many different areas, but it would not be possible with the many different moving parts there are within the industry.

Every year 1.1 million acres of sugar beets and cane are grown in the U.S. The two sources of sugar, sugar beets and cane, are, “essential ingredient in foods across our food system” said Markwart. The two different plants make sugar to go into many craving food items such as candy, baked goods, and more!

There is a reliable supply of sugar considering the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota processing facilities can help fill the grocery stores and industry partners that need sugar. When the covid-19 pandemic began, the American Sugar Alliance saw more consumers wanting to bake to ensure they have food on their own and to entertain the family. Markwart says the American Sugar Alliance, “pivoted to make 53 million more 4 lb. bags for the grocery stores for customers to have an ample supply.” To fill the need was important but he adds it was,“Thanks to the dedicated farmers and factory workers.”

Farmers producing sugar beets are harvesting a huge 5-pound white crop. To process the sugar, the equipment chops and boils the sugar out of the sugar beet. In cane production, the tall stalks are chopped, and the juice is squeezed out of it. It’s then considered raw sugar and re-melted to create a finer sugar more ideal to the end consumer. Markwart says this year’s crop is producing a great yield at over 30 tons per acre considering the target average yield is 25 tons per acre.

The sugar beet consists of 75% water and 18-19% sugar which means there is a lot of water leftover. What doesn’t get to be made into sugar is used in many different byproducts. The pulp is a valuable feed product for cattle feed and even used for horses at the Kentucky Derby Markwart says. The by-products of sugar are plentiful, but Markwart pointed out it even can act as a road de-icer alongside molasses since it’s “sticky and non-corrosive.”

The sugar industry offers not only a future career opportunity, but products that may not have come to mind that are used with sugar in them.