A Honey and Tequila Cocktail
Making Sugar from Cane and Beets

Sugar Production in Modern Times


In the Sugar Spirit Project we've looked at the history of sugarcane and sugar production (project index here).

In this post we'll look at sugar production today. Some of this information may be out of date due to the date of my reference books/websites, so please take it all with a grain of salt.

Nowadays, sugar is not longer a major export in the Caribbean except for Guyana, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

In India, the sugar industry is not large plantation-based but from small peasant holdings. The cane is processed by private companies or cooperatives. This is because citizens were already occupying the land and couldn’t be forced off when sugar cane was planted. 

In China sugar is not an item of mass consumption. It is also not a plantation culture. 

In Cuba, after Fidel Castro’s revolution, they increased minimum wage for cane cutters, and expropriated sugar plantations and mills. Keep in mind US interests controlled much of the sugar cane production in Cuba. So the US retaliated by importing sugar from elsewhere. 82% of Cuban sugar was exported to the US so it was a major economic problem. Eventually they sold it to Eastern European countries.

But communist employment didn’t inspire the hard labor required to cut sugar, so the harvests did poorly. Eventually the harvest was militarized. Then when the Soviet Union crumbled so too did 85% of their sugar exports. Half of its 156 sugar mills closed and 60% of its fields were converted to vegetable farms or cattle fields.

Brazil is today’s largest sugarcane producer. In the 1970s due to oil shortages, sugar cane was processed into fuel as well as sugar.

The world's biggest sugarcane producers in order are Brazil, India, China, Thailand, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, Australia, Argentina, and the Philippines. Half of the supply comes from Brazil and India. 

The sugar industry in Brazil employs over 1 million Brazilians and is more than 10% of the country’s agriculture. Gas there is required to contain at least 25% ethanol. About half of sugarcane grown is converted into ethanol; most of the rest is exported. 

It takes 3 days to transform sugarcane into ethanol.

In the US, corn yields a ratio of 1.3 units of energy produced vs. expended to produce it. Beet sugar yields 8.3. Yet corn is cheaper to grow so it is grown instead. 

Per hectare (2.47 acres) sugar cane yields about 20 tons of dry material, half of which is in sugar of some form; the other half is bagasse – trash for fuel, etc. 

Four U.S. states produce sugar cane:Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana and Texas. Sugar beet farms can be found in California, Colorado, Idaho,Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota,Oregon, and Wyoming.

According to Sugar.org, we now use more of other sweeteners (I'm guessing high fructose corn syrup) than sugar from cane and beets. "Sugar remains the predominate sweetener in every country except the United States, where in recent decades man-made sweetening agents have been created and mass produced."


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