LANSING, MI -- During their time abroad as part of the Michigan and Indiana Farm Bureau study tour to Germany and Belgium, Thumb-area sugar beet growers Carl Bednarski and Matt Frostic felt right at home visiting the Reuer family's farm near Cremlingen, Germany.
Hans Jurgen Reuer, and his wife Martina, are 10th generation farmers who grow 500 acres of sugar beets, corn and wheat, in addition to running a farm store that sells eggs, homemade sausages, jams and baked goods.
Minutes after discovering Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski and Sanilac County Farm Bureau member Matt Frostic were also sugar beet growers, Hans Jurgen insisted on an excursion to his closest sugar beet field, where they discussed several production similarities between Germany and Michigan, including planting and harvest time frame, seed varieties, row spacing and average yield.
Similarities aside, a distinction worth noting is that production of GMO sugar beets—and other GMO crops for that matter—is prohibited in Germany and the European Union (EU).
"Their non-GMO sugar beets require herbicide treatments," Bednarski said. "Whereas in Michigan, GMO sugar beets enable us to refrain from herbicide application."
Like many Michigan sugar beet farmers in early September, Jurgen was hoping to begin harvest in a couple weeks and reflected on his 2014 crop that was well above the nation's average.
"Last year was a great year for the sugar beets," said Reuer. "We yielded 48 tons per acre."
Reuer's farm is situated on some of the highest-rated German soil at 80-90 points. The country's complex soil classification system was established during the 1930s. Land is graded using a 100-point scale based on attributes including ground water recharge, water retention, filter functions and soil productivity.
With more than 30,000 growers to accommodate, there are 20 sugar beet processing facilities throughout Germany. For early-harvest processing, farms receive an assigned delivery date, and as the season progresses the beets are piled and covered on field edges until they're able to be hauled in.
Germany ranks second in the EU for sugar beet production, between France (1), Poland (3) and the United Kingdom (4). The region is also notoriously sugar-hungry, but without a climate conducive to sugar cane production, the EU is a major importer and processor of raw cane sugar.
The EU sugar market operates under a production quota system with a minimum price level and trade mechanisms.