Work being undertaken into alternative uses for sugar and sugar beet in the Netherlands to maximise the crop’s potential was the focus of the 2020 NFU Sugar breakout session at the NFU conference.
Dirk de Lugt, chairman of the Dutch beet growers’ cooperative Royal Cosun, told the session about research it had been doing work on processing leaves from harvested beet to produce vegetable proteins for use in a range of food and drinks, as well as work on the production of bioplastics, which can help reduce reliance on plastics produced from fossil fuels.
Royal Cosun has 9,000 members responsible for growing and processing sugar in the Netherlands.
Mr de Lugt emphasised the ‘circular economy’ Royal Cosun prided itself on – growing the beet, processing it, and producing a wide range of co-products. It also undertakes innovative research at its dedicated research and development facilities looking at adding more value to the crop.
Suiker Unie, a business within Royal Cosun, has become the largest producer of green gas in the Netherlands. It operates three biomass fermentation plants, as well as a bioethanol producing facility.
Sugar beet leaves are usually mulched back into the soil during harvest, or occasionally used for animal feed, but Royal Cosun has been collecting and processing leaves to extract the protein within them.
Mr de Lugt said: “This protein has excellent gelation properties and can be used in foods as an alternative to animal proteins, and extract more value for the grower.”
With climate change an ever-increasing concern for society, he said sugar beet was an excellent crop for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and was more effective than sugar cane.
“This is because sugar beet requires less land and considerably less water for its production because of the irrigation necessary for cane production,” he said.
Michael Sly, chairman of the NFU sugar board, added: “The circular economy concept where the sector produces biogas and digestate, which could then be used to help improve soil health on farms, and vegetable-based protein from leaves are exciting things for the UK industry to look at.”