Sugar beet industry hopes for revival in Latvia

Over several years, the south Kurzeme company SIA “Otaņķu dzirnavnieks”, known by the brand “”, has been reviving and developing the sugar beet growing industry in Latvia, followed by other companies, Latvian Radio reported on September 21.

This week, sugar beet harvesting started in Lithuania, which is also ensured by “Otaņķu dzirnavnieks”. They work both in Latvia and harvest sugar beet in Lithuania. This year it will be possible to double the amount of beet harvesting and trans-shipment as the company has invested in special tractor equipment.

Ričards Riepšs, Chairman of the Board of the company, said that this year it is planned to serve 45% of the volume of the Lithuanian company "Nordic Sugar Kedainiai AB". The first sugar beet grown in Latvia started to be transported to Lithuania in 2018, when the Lithuanians had found the first growers.

“At the beginning of 2018, the head of Nordic Sugar's logistics group came to us and made an offer of loading and delivery of relatively large volumes of sugar beet from Latvia to the Lithuanian plant. It was a large amount in a short period. We saw it as a challenge, as an opportunity for development. Without knowing even the circumstances, we agreed,” Riepšs said, stressing that the risk had justified itself and the collaboration was only growing.

The Otaņķi miller is one of the leading freight and logistics companies in the Baltic States, which operates in the field of agriculture and is the founder of the brand “Gudrie graudi”.

“The Lithuanian company has shown increasing interest in sugar beet in Latvia, because it looks like the harvests are better than in Lithuania. It is grown as close as possible to the plant, geographically, but the land is tired of sugar beet; if you move away from the plant, the harvests can get better,“ Riepšs said.

Currently, six farms in Kurzeme and Zemgale grow sugar beet in Latvia. The largest areas are in Dobele.

After a longer hiatus, sugar beet was also tried for the first time this year in Saldus municipality. AS “Pampāļi” is one of the leading agricultural enterprises in Latvia; it manages nearly 4,000 hectares (ha) of land and is the largest soya grower in Latvia. It also used to be one of the largest sugar beet growers in Latvia.

"From the time of the kolkhoz. The successor, Pampāļi, continued, growing sugar beet in 350 hectares. As the previous head of the company said at the time, my father Jānis Vaļko – one hectare of sugar beet is as profitable as three hectares of wheat. We have suitable clay soils for growing sugar beet. We had our own harvesting, purification, and logistics technology,” said Mārtiņš Vaļko, board Member of AS Pampāļi.

He believes that the elimination of the sugar industry in Latvia was a mistake and is now a loss for the Latvian economy. Initially, the idea of resuming sugar beet cultivation seemed utopian, as the equipment had been sold. Now, sugar beet has been planted on an area of 160 hectares.

Sugar beet cultivation technologies have evolved, varieties have also been better adapted to produce sugar, and weed control has become more effective.

Yields for sugar beet could reach up to 100 tonnes per hectare these days, even twice as much as they used to. The harvest is said to be good this year. Organic sugar is known to be exported to the US, which is used for the production of “Coca-Cola” and other purposes. In “Pampāļi”, harvesting of sugar beets could start in two weeks.

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