About Sugar Beets
Although domestication of beet as a leafy vegetable and root crop took place in prehistoric times, sugar beet is a relatively new crop plant. The European beet sugar industry was able to develop once the technology to measure sucrose concentration in solution was discovered, and the spread of this industry was accelerated by increased demand for beet sugar caused by the British blockade of continental Europe in the early 19th century. Starting in France and Germany, the beet sugar industry spread throughout Europe, to North and South America, Asia, and North Africa.
About 35% of global sugar production and 50-55% of the domestic (U.S.) sugar production comes from sugar beet, equating to about 8.4 million metric tons (4). Some sugar beet currently is used for fuel ethanol production. Technically, conversion of sugar to ethanol is a simple process requiring only yeast fermentation, whereas producing ethanol from maize, e.g., requires enzymes to convert starch to sugars.
Origin and History of Sugar Beets
Sugar Beets in California
Since 1870, 11 sugar factories have been built throughout California. However, the last sugar beet factory in northern California closed in 2008, ending more than 140 years of beet production in the region and leaving only one operating in the state (in the Imperial Valley).