Innovation

Lambton Beet: Rural Organization of the Year Award

In 1997, Michigan Sugar Company, then a privately owned company, approached a group of Canadian farmers with the possibility of growing sugarbeets under contract for the company. That year, 700 acres were grown in Ontario as a pilot project. The following year, an agreement was made with Ontario to produce up to 10,000 acres of the lucrative crop in Lambton and Chatham Kent, to be delivered to the processing facility in Croswell MI, about 40km north of the Bluewater Bridges. Unfortunately for the Lambton area farmers, the “piling ground” that would be the delivery location for the sugarbeets to be stored until delivery to the factory was located half way between Wallaceburg and Chatham, about 50km in the wrong direction from Lambton. Thus the next innovation was born that ultimately transformed the North American sugarbeet industry forever.

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Mark Lumley and Ken Smith, two Lambton area growers devised a plan for what has been named “deliver directly”. The company was approached with a novel idea: clean the dirt off of the beets “in field” instead of at the piling ground, and deliver direct to the factory in Michigan, clean and ready for “slice”. This concept has never been considered before in the 100 year history of the company, but because it would save both growers and company thousands of dollars in freight, and a $1M piling ground in the area, the company agreed, and approved the concept machine for cleaning. Throughout the next 4 years, the machine evolved, designed by Ken and Mark along with help of local fab shops, until a trip to Germany in 2006.
Ropa, a German family manufacturer of sugarbeet equipment had been producing a machine called a Maus for about 6 years. It was designed from the ground up to do exactly what growers in Lambton were doing: de-couple harvest from delivery, and clean in field. So with the lead of Mark and Ken, several farmers went together to form Lambton Beet Harvesting Inc. to purchase and import the first Ropa Maus into North America. Since then, this innovative idea has caught on and there are currently about 15 Maus in the US and 2 in Ontario saving growers millions of dollars in freight and logistics headaches each year. This innovative contribution to the local and provincial economy has earned Lambton Beet the recognition of the Warden of Lambton County with the Rural Organization of the Year Award in 2006, and OSGA Chair Mark Lumley the recognition of the Premier of Ontario with the “Premier’s Award for Agricultural Innovation Excellence” in 2007.