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A Short History and Production Statistics of the Sugar Industry for Railfans

The US consumes 10 million tons of refined sugar each year and about 12 million tons of corn sweetener. White sugar is essentially pure sucrose and there is no difference between that derived from cane and that from sugar beets.

The United States is the world�s largest importer of sugar. Since 1980, the United States imported an average of 2.5 million tons per year, 1.64 million tons in 2000. However U.S. sugar imports have declined significantly compared to import levels prior to 1980, which averaged 5.3 million tons from 1960 to 1979.

Florida produced 1.1 million tons of raw sugar from sugar cane in 1980. That increased to around 1.5 million tons in the last years of the 1980s. During the 2000-01 season, Florida surpassed two million tons to maintain its share of one-half of the total domestic cane sugar output. Sugar cane is grown on 441,000 acres in Palm Beach, Martin, Hendry and Glades counties, with the bulk of the production in western Palm Beach County.

Louisiana and Texas
The Louisiana sugar crop averages around 300,000 tons of sugar per year. The first mill for processing sugar beets in Texas was opened at Hereford in 1964. By 1967, sugar beet production in Texas yielded 663,000 tons. Imperial Sugar Company in Sugar Land was the only company refining cane sugar in Texas. Imperial began operation in Sugar Land in 1843 and merged with the Holly Sugar Corporation in 1989. In 1980 it produced 998,000 tons of cane sugar. The Sugar Land refinery was closed in May 2003. Texas has one sugar mill in the Rio Grande Valley that produces around 100,000 tons of sugar per year.

Idaho's sugar industry began about the turn of the century. In 1903 principals of the company and some Idaho citizens formed Idaho Sugar Company and constructed a factory at Lincoln, just east of Idaho Falls. The Lincoln plant could process 4,400 tons of beets a day and was shut down in 1978.

Amalgamated Sugar Co.'s processes about 6 million tons of beets each year. The beets come from 210,000 acres in eastern and southern Idaho, about 10,000 in eastern Oregon and 4,000 in Washington. The plant produces 1.7 billion pounds of sugar. That represents 20 percent of the beet sugar produced in the United States and 10 percent of all American sugar, including cane. Amalgamated moved to Nampa from Ogden, Utah in 1942. It has plants in Rupert, Twin Falls and Nampa, ID; and Nyssa, OR.

Red River Valley
American Crystal Sugar Company is a Minnesota agricultural cooperative corporation owned by about 3,000 sugarbeet growers in the Minnesota and North Dakota portions of the Red River Valley. The company processes about 7.5 million tons of beets each year.

1,468,000 tons of sugar beets were harvested in 1999, which ranks Montana 6th in the nation. Most sugar beets are grown in south central Montana.

Michigan and Ohio
Sugarbeet production in Michigan and Ohio was around three million tons in 1991.

California was the first State to grow sugarbeets commercially in 1870. In crop year 1991 California produced an estimated 4.4 million tons of sugar beets. This crop was processed into refined beet sugar at the State's eight beet factories. But, while acreage has been rising in most of the other 13 States that grow sugarbeets, California's acreage is declining due to disease, drought, urbanization, and competition from profitable alternative crops. The closing of the processing plants in Chandler, Arizona, and Salinas, California, in 1982 contributed to the subsequent drop in acreage in the Imperial Valley and Salinas Valley. In 1977, a beet processing plant at Santa Ana in Orange County closed and sugarbeet production ceased in nearby Riverside and Santa Barbara counties.
Sugar beet processing plants and 1990 capacity in tons per day:
Hamilton City, Holly 4,000
Woodland, Spreckels 3,600
Clarksburg, Delta Sugar Co. 3,000
Manteca, Spreckels 4,200
Tracy, Holly 5,000
Mendota, Spreckels 4,200
Betteravia, Union (Holly) 5,500
Brawley, Holly 7,500
Salinas, Spreckels closed in 1982
Santa Ana, Holly closed as a beet processing plant in 1977
Cane sugar processing plant:
Crockett, C&H Inc. 2,500

California used approximately 930,000 tons of HFCS in 1991, 15 percent of the national total. In 1991, California had only one HFCS processing plant in Stockton. Built in 1981, the plant had an annual capacity of 210,000 tons. About 10 percent of the corn used by the plant was California grown, and the rest was shipped by rail from the Midwest.

The top sugar beet producing states in 2003

state tons
Minnesota: 9,558,000
Idaho: 6,086,000
North Dakota: 5,838,000
Michigan: 3,238,000
California: 1,850,000

After processing, the refined sugar is either bagged for purchase at retail stores or loaded into airslide covered hoppers for shipment to commercial users.

From 1932 to the mid-1980s, the annual cane sugar production in Hawaii averaged one million tons. With increased tourism the islands of Oahu and Hawaii saw their final sugarcane harvests in 1996. Sugarcane is still grown on about 70,000 acres on Kauai and Maui yielding some 340,000 tons of raw sugar per year. One ton of sugar cane will yield about 250 pounds of raw sugar.

Hawaii produced an average of 927,000 short tons of raw cane sugar annually between 1985 and 1990, compared with 1,030,000 tons annually the previous five years. Of Hawaii's total raw cane sugar production, only about 40,000 to 50,000 tons is processed into refined sugar for use in the Islands. The bulk of production is shipped to the C&H plant at Crockett, CA (on San Francisco Bay). The C&H refinery, one of the world's largest, has an annual production record of 928,000 tons of refined sugar. According to industry sources, current downsized capacity is around 650,000 tons for 1991. Of the nearly one-half million tons of refined sugar produced at Crockett, about 50 percent currently goes to the packaged "grocery" market and the other half to industrial users.

2014 Update
The winter of 2014 has not been kind to the BNSF. With the increased oil traffic from the Bakken Shale region, BNSF has been short of crews and locomotives to move the traffic across the Northern Transcon. This has slowed shipments of oil out of North Dakota to refineries, grain to the Pacific Northwest, and sugar to major food processors. American Crystal Sugar generally ships around 50 cars of sugar a day to food processors such as General Mills, Kraft Foods, Nestle Mars, and Kellogg. On several day in February, it was only getting 30 cars for loading.

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