Drivers in the sugar beet industry include strong beet prices and increased national production.
- Northwest sugar beet harvest concluded with average sugar content and favorable producer prices.
- National sugar beet production increases offset substantial sugar cane losses.
- Transportation costs, inflation, labor shortages and input cost increases may impact producer profitability in 2022.
12-Month Profitability Outlook
Northwest FCS’ 12-month sugar beet outlook reports profitable returns are expected. Rising input prices will provide headwinds, but favorable producer payments will counteract increased costs.
In Idaho, sugar beet harvest yields were modest with an average of 39.5 tons per acre and an average sugar content of 18.2%. Yields were 2.7% lower year over year. These lower yields were attributed to summer drought conditions and early irrigation shutoff in parts of Idaho and Oregon. Idaho’s 2021 sugar beet crop totaled 6.8 million tons. Amalgamated Sugar is projected to pay producers $56.00 to $58.00 per ton on average, well above the U.S. average price of $50.50 per ton. Well-timed rain in October increased soil moisture and left producers optimistic about the 2022 growing season.
In Montana, sugar beets yields were 30.5 tons per acre with an average sugar content of 18.9%. Montana sugar beet production rose from 1,189,000 tons in 2020 to 327,000,000 tons, an 11.6% increase. The Western Sugar Factory announced an initial payment of $44.00 per ton in November. Payment prices could increase in March and October. Contract negotiations will occur during the winter, Montana producers are optimistic they will receive favorable contracts.
The USDA estimates the 2021-22 sugar supply at 14 million tons. Total sugar supply remains stable, only 0.2% lower than 2020. The increase in sugar beet production offset a smaller sugar cane crop and decreases in total imports. National sugar beet production rose 5.9% with California, Michigan and the Red River Valley, propelling national beet growth. Michigan had record yields of 36.5 tons per acre, exceeding the previous record of 31.6 tons per acre. However, the increased beet production put stress on processors. As a preventive measure, Michigan producers are mandated to leave 5% of beet acres unharvested. Growers were incentivized through a buy-back program to voluntarily select an additional 5,000 acres to remain unharvested.
Hurricane Ida delayed Louisiana’s sugar cane harvest resulting in the smallest crop in five years, and national cane production decreased 7.1% year over year. Total imports are down 3.7% despite imports from Mexico being up 10.1% year over year. The increased Mexico imports were offset by reductions in the Tariff Rate Quota. Total sugar supply for 2021-22 is projected to remain stable.
Transportation, inflation and labor shortages remain an issue for the sugar industry. Transportation costs are record high amongst a shortage of truck drivers. 2022 retail prices are expected to reflect higher transportation costs. Higher wages to attract more truck drivers will not provide relief to transportation challenges until late 2022 at the earliest. Inflation and rising input costs will impact producer profitability. Headline inflation was 6.8% in the last year. Anecdotal reports indicate Northwest producers are expecting 20%-30% total expense cost increases from rising costs of fertilizer, fuel, labor and other expenses. Labor shortages have caused headwinds for beet factory operations and sugar user industries.
Mexico Sugar Forecast
Mexico sugar production is projected at 5.9 million metric tons for the 2021-22 crop year. Generous rains and improved yields led to a 4.6% increase in production from last year. Total supply rose 6.9% while domestic use had a slight decline of 0.4%. Domestic consumption of sweeteners has been on the decline since 2017. Regulation passed in October 2020 in Mexico required soft drinks to reduce their use of high-fructose corn syrup and many products have undergone reformulation to reduce sweeteners.
Mexico increased exports by 52.5%, and growth for their sugar export market is forecasted for the coming months. On Nov. 23, 2021, the USDA increased the Mexico sugar export limit by 150,000 tons to address potential shortages in the market. Mexico has until March 31, 2022 to fill the order. Mexico has not yet increased their exports since the letter was issued.
Mexico Sugar Supply and Use and High Fructose Corn Syrup Imports
Source: World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates. Dec. 9, 2021. *MTRV = Metric Ton, Raw Value
Northwest FCS Business Management Center
NWFCS Industry Insights
American Crystal Sugar Company
American Sugar Alliance
American Sugarbeet Growers Association
Snake River Sugar Company
Western Sugar Cooperative
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