MONITOR TOWNSHIP, MICH. — The Michigan Sugar Co. on Aug. 24 said it plans to invest more than $65 million to build a desugarization facility at its sugar beet processing factory in Bay County’s Monitor Township. The facility is expected to produce an additional 80 million lbs (40,000 tons) of refined sugar annually from molasses produced as a byproduct of sugar beet processing.

The project, which is expected to begin in the fall of 2021 and be completed in 18 to 24 months, will allow the company to process 100% of the molasses it produces, up to 650 tons per day from 325 tons currently.

“We are going to produce up to 80 million more lbs of sugar annually without planting another acre of sugar beets,” Adam Herford, chairman of the board of the Michigan Sugar Co., said concerning the sustainability benefits of the project. “That means 80 million more lbs without any additional passes over our farm fields with our equipment, without any further spraying of our crops to ward off disease and pests and without burning any additional fuel on our farms to expand operations.”

The investment in desugarization completely aligns with a goal to drive sales of Michigan Sugar’s Pioneer Sugar brand as well as private label, value-added packaged sales with key partners, said Pedro Figueroa, vice president of sales and marketing at Michigan Sugar Co.

“Our project also ensures a significant volume in our ‘farm-to-table’ and Certified Vegan sugar supply through agricultural and food production sustainability improvement, in addition to creating important scale-up efficiencies that will consistently increase domestic sugar production in Michigan for many years to come,” Mr. Figueroa said.

Desugarization equipment that was installed in the 1990s will be replaced at the Bay City factory. Prior to that installation, molasses was sold as a byproduct.

Also included will be the addition of juice softening equipment at the two Michigan Sugar factories (Caro and Sebewaing) that don’t already have such equipment. Molasses must be softened before it can be desugared.

“Simply put, we can sell sugar at a higher price than we sell molasses,” said Mark Flegenheimer, president and chief executive officer of Michigan Sugar Co. “Our nearly 900 grower-owners will see added annual revenue of $10 million to $15 million, in perpetuity.”

Michigan Sugar Co.’s grower-owners plant about 160,000 acres of sugar beets annually across 20 Michigan counties and Ontario. The company has four sugar beet processing facilities in Michigan, a sugar production facility in Toledo, Ohio, four warehouses and an agricultural research center. It can produce more than 1.1 billion lbs (550,000 tons) of sugar annually serving all segments of the sugar-using industry, including retail brands Pioneer Sugar and Big Chief Sugar.