Today we visited two very different sugar beet plants. The first plant was operated by Pfeifer & Langen. This plant produces crystallized sugar, liquid sugar and specialty sugars for chocolates and sweets. This is a large plant needing a truckload of beets every 3 minutes to keep the plant running. They process 10000 tons of sugar beets per day.
The plant uses a large volume of water to wash and move the sugar beets. A sugar beet arrives as 80% water and 50% of this water is removed during processing. The captured water is then used to operate the plant. Our guide explained the plant is a large water factory. The water is treated and excess is actually filtered and placed back in the river.
The water is used to wash the dirt away. A load of sugar beets arriving to the plant has an average of 5% dirt included. The separated dirt is a by product and the farmers can haul it back to their fields. Other by products include water, lime cake and the pulp at 30% moisture that is sold as a livestock feed. The pulp is mixed with molasses and a very good feed in the area.
The beets are cut and processed to create the sugars. The solution is cooked using lignite from the coal mines we visited yesterday. The less expensive, close in proximity coal is what provides this plant a competitive advantage.
Of the 3 sugars mentioned above, liquid sugar is 45% of production, crystal sugar is 50% and candy sugar is 5%. The operations manager explained they prefer the liquid as it is easier to move and store. This plant was modern and moved a lot of volume.
We then visited the Grafschafter plant. This plant processes sugar beets in the same fashion as Pfeifer & Langen but is much smaller. It provides a great local market for the farmers to send their sugar beets. This plant processes 50,000 tons of sugar beets per year. They only produce liquid sugar. Grafschafter then provides sugar beet syrups. They also mix the syrup with many fruits to make the product a little sweeter or more of a jam. This plant was smaller but had a long history and their products appear to have a solid reputation.
We then visited the Toni Winkelhaag farm. Toni is a young farmer growing mostly sugar beets, wheat, rapeseed and barley on his 150 hectare or 375 acres. His Father farms an additional 137 hectare on a different farm. Toni and his parents welcomed us to their home. Their farm sits in the middle of town. Mrs. Winkelhaag provided 2 excellent desserts for us. We discussed land purchases and prices. They are currently struggling to justify land purchases as they have reached $80,000 euro per hectare. That is $109,400 U.S. per hectare or $43,760 per acre. The farms are normally smaller hectares and being purchased by outside investors or farmers growing strawberries. As a reference, we had been told of $40,000 per hectare sales in other areas of Germany last week.
The Winkelhaag's farm in a machinery coop. They own their own sugar beet planter but own a combine with 3 other farmers. This is quite common in parts of Europe as the farm sizes are much smaller and individual farmers can not afford to solely own equipment. Before we left, the Winkelhaag's took us to their new farm shed. The inside was filled with wheat and sugar for temporary storage. This new shed also had the roof covered with solar panels. This is very popular on roofs in the countryside. Everyone admits they would not have them if they were not so heavily subsidized.
To wrap up the day we were invited to Ms. Brigitte Wenzel's home for dinner. She works for the Rhineland Farmers Association. She and her Mother prepared a great meal of saurbraten, potato dumplings, red cabbage, green beans and gravy. The meal was topped off with another great dessert of apple strudel. We greatly appreciate Ms. Wenzel and her family's great hospitality.