The right mix: sugar beet juice, salt duo could help Michiganders, farmers

posted on Monday, September 23, 2019 in Current News

By Mitch Galloway, Farm News Media

Beet juice and salt for road salt

LANSING — State sugar beet growers say they can supply enough juice to spray all of the roads in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

This, however, is contingent on whether or not the House of Representatives votes in favor of legislation that would pair organic additives with salt to deice roads.

SB 379 passed by the Senate, 34-2, on Tuesday would require the Michigan Department of Transporation (MDOT) to implement a pilot program “on the use of organic additives to control ice on public roads, highways, and bridges.”

According to the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville) and supported by the Michigan Farm Bureau, this will “reduce the application of salt and chemicals” that deteriorate Michigan roads. Most roads in Michigan are either cleared with salt or sand, depending on the temperature. However, there’s been significant pushback from legislators and the public against the use of salt, which legislators argue corrodes and deteriorates state roads.

A shift away from salt- and sand-only deicers could mean a new economic opportunity for local sugar beet growers, said Theresa Sisung, associate field crops specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

“There are some areas of the state that have already tried it,” Sisung said. “I think it’s good to work on getting more sugar beet juice out there. It’s supposed to work in lower temperatures as well as being less corrosive on the roads. Especially as we are working on ‘fixing our roads’ in the state, it could be beneficial to have a less corrosive alternative”

In June, the House sponsored HB 4716, a similar bill to the one passed Tuesday. The House will now consider the pilot program.

“We’ve worked with industry partners to advance this legislation,” Sisung said. “Michigan Sugar (Company) could supply enough juice for Michigan, Indiana and Ohio to spray on all of their roads. Just having that extra economic stream will definitely help Michigan Sugar, which goes back to our sugar beet growers.”

Sugar beet juice is a byproduct that’s the result of sugar crystal formation. According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, sugar beet juice mixed with salt brine “helps the salt brine work at lower temperatures to treat icy or snow-packed surfaces.”

The department said it uses an 80% salt brine and 20% beet juice mix on icy roads, which costs $1.70 to $1.85 per gallon. Other states are also using agricultural products to counter icy roads, such as cheese brine in Wisconsin and molasses in Maine.

All are ways to help the environment, they contend.

Current MFB policy encourages and supports the use of Calcium Magnesium Acetate and other ag-based products for deicing roads and bridges. Nationally, the American Farm Bureau Federation is sponsoring policy in support of researching bio-based products being used as road deicers.

In Michigan, Sisung said the majority of sugar beet production is done in the Thumb region.

“The biggest thing is it’s less corrosive than salt,” she said. “If we can use less salt, the roads will be less damaged, be better for vehicles because there will be less rust. You will have fewer detrimental effects than what you have using straight salt for roads.”

According to sugar beet producer Peter Maxwell, road commission crews in Frankenmuth, Mich., and Ontario, Canada, are already using sugar beet juice to deice roads.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity for sugar producers and for the citizens of Michigan,” said Maxwell, who raises sugar beets, corn and pumpkins in Midland and Gladwin counties. “It has a lower freezing point than salt and is less corrosive on roads and bridges.

“Ultimately, it could be win-win for everyone.”

One of the reasons sugar beet juice hasn’t been widely used in Michigan is due to a misconception that it costs more, said John Boothroyd, manager of government relations at Bay City-based Michigan Sugar Company.

“These products may have a higher sticker price, but the municipalities that use them are saving money in the long run through decreased salt purchases and labor costs,” said Boothroyd, noting that sugar beet juice’s sticky residue stays on roads longer, eliminating salt runoff into waterways.

“Incorporating sugar beets into a salt mix could make sense for Michigan because it sticks to the road, is less corrosive, has a smaller environmental impact and melts ice at lower temperatures than salt,” he said. “We make a lot of molasses from sugar beets. We don’t anticipate the supply of molasses to be an issue. Even given the most widely optimistic numbers for future demand, we could fulfill it.”