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Sugar Beets

In 1747, a German scientist named Andreas Sigismund Maggraf invented a method of obtaining sucrose, or table sugar, from beets (see Figure 1). The first factory whose function was to turn beets into sugar was constructed in 1801 in Eastern Europe (Heston 15). Sucrose is stored in the sugar beet during periods of drought or frost, therefore “the irrigating farmer can prepare his crop for harvest by turning off the water” (19). The beet can be grown in a variety of non-tropical climates, as can be seen in Figure 2.

 

The sugar beet industry has grown in importance during key periods of history. For example, sugar beet production flourished for the first time in Europe during the Napoleonic wars, when French ports were blockaded by the British, impeding the import of sugar from Latin American colonies. Because of this, sugar beet overtook sugar cane in the European market by 1880. Similarly, in the 1920s, sugar beet production became increasingly significant in England in an attempt to decrease Britain’s reliance on foreign sugar, which had caused severe shortages during the First World War, as well as to enhance the agriculture industry (“An introduction”).

 

Figure 2: Worldwide sugar production (How Sugar is Made)

 

In recent years, the subsidization of the sugar beet industry – primarily a developed-world crop – has been the subject of scrutiny. This issue is explored in “Sugar Policies.”

 

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