Of the total sugar produced in the world, 35% is produced from sugar beet and the share of India in this is practically nil as experts feel that the climatic conditions in the country are not suitable for sugar beet, a crop that is confined only to European countries.
However, Rana Sugars Limited is out to prove the experts wrong. In a small plot of land at its sugar mill premises in this village of Amritsar district, a healthy crop of sugar beet has just been dug out from the ground. Though this is not the harvesting season of the crop, the experiment of cultivating sugar beet in hot climatic conditions has proved successful.
Holding the sugar beet plants up for display, founder of Rana Sugars and Congress MLA Rana Gurjit Singh announced that his company would now introduce sugar beet to the farmers of Punjab. The company would also buy the crop from the farmers for extracting sugar on its mill premises here. The machinery for processing the sugar beet and extracting sugar from it would be installed soon.
"We have been doing worldwide surveys and identified sugar beet as a supplementary crop to augment optimal utilisation of our crushing capacity at the mill here. It is also a step in the direction of crop diversification and deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has assured all assistance," he said while talking to visiting journalists here on Thursday.
Often referred to as the sugar baron, Rana Gurjit said his company had tied up with SES Vanderhave, a Belgium-based company, for the supply of sugar beet seed to the farmers. The sugar beet could be grown as an inter-crop with autumn-planted sugarcane and could help in extending the cane-crushing period of the sugarmill here up to May from March as of now.
He said sugar beet was not only a source of sugar but also provided several bi-products like ethanol and cattle feed. The molasses after crushing can be used in pharmaceutical industry, he added.
Rana Sugars has already identified the varieties to be grown and intend to begin sowing in the second week of October and the harvesting would begin in March end next year. As the sugarcane crushing comes to an end, crushing of the sugar beet would commence for extracting sugar at the mill.
The company would provide free seed to farmers for the first season and take care of sowing, crop care and harvesting operations, which would be totally mechanised. The targeted area this year is 12,000 acres though already the company has got offers for sowing in 14,000 acres in areas in Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Tarn Taran districts.
"This project will be an extension of our existing sugar mill by way of adding an additional line for processing sugar beet and sugar would remain as the end product. The farmers would get better returns on growing sugar beet than wheat.
They would also have the advantage of an assured buyback under a contract farming agreement on a committed price with the sugar mill and supervised agronomic practices. The sowing and harvesting would be a mechanised operation and our team of experts would provide agronomic practices to the farmers throughout the season," the company's managing director Rana Inder Pratap said.
To provide an insight into sugar beet farming and sugar extraction, an interaction was also organised on the mill premises. SES Vanderhave experts, Mohan Bajikar and Muzaffar Adiyaman from Turkey, Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) director research, SS Gosal and several others shared their expertise on beetroot cultivation with the farmers.
Pilot project trials
Pilot project trials to explore feasibility of sugar beet processing for sugar extraction was conducted in Punjab, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Haryana and Tamil Nadu from 2008 to 2010.
The farmer chosen from Punjab was Jagtar Singh Brar of Mehma Sarja village in Bathinda district. During each of these three years, he cultivated sugar beet in one hectare of land. The company that conducted the trials was Syngenta that supplied the seed and gave the necessary expertise.
While sharing his experience with farmers, Brar who was here said, "For three years my average yield was 520 quintals per acre, which was the second highest among all nations where these trials were conducted by Syngenta. The sugar extraction from my crop was the highest in the world. I even got a certificate from the company. So I do not see why this crop cannot be successful here."