Get with the beet

Forget season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…round these ‘ere parts it’s the season of sugarbeet mountains. Local farm just harvested 200 acres of these root vegetables and they’re sitting in a massive heap at the edge of a field waiting to be loaded up on to 30-tonners and dispatched to the sugar works at either Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk or Wissington in Norfolk, apparently; the latter being the biggest sugar refinery in the UK.


Roughly speaking, the mound of sugarbeets was basically a truncated cone with a base of approximately 30-40 metres diameter and about 3 metres high, at a quick guess 1500 cubic metres. As a guess, they’d pack in the heap at 100 beets per cubic metre…so that’s a pile of maybe 150,000 or so, 1 kilo each, 150 tonnes…so 50 lorry loads. Sound about right?

Ironically, given their name, sugarbeet aren’t particularly rich in sugar (compared to sugar cane), at least according to a couple in a Range Rover on the farm whom I probed to find out more about this sweet mountain. I’d assumed that 20 beets were needed to make a kilo bag of sugar, the woman reckoned two or three times that. So, that mountain would be refined to 3000 bags…with the residue being used as a bulking agent for livestock food.


We’d need tens of thousands of sugarbeet farmers to sate our sweet tooth, but imported sugarcane is about 90% of our sugar supply. The beet balance is probably a few thousand farms averaging 200-acres, although obviously some will be bigger and some smaller. British Sugar says there are actually 4000 farms producing 8 million tonnes of sugarbeet annually. So my Fermi calculation wasn’t too far off, I don’t think…feel free to correct my agricultural assumptions.