The U.S. produces over 9 million tons of sugar every year, with the largest share coming from sugar beets, which account for 55-60% of output. Sugar beets are grown in 11 states that are primarily in the northern and western U.S. – Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota, and Michigan are the top growing states. The remainder of U.S. sugar production comes from sugarcane, grown in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. There is no difference between cane and beet sugar.
Sugar beets are a root crop with a five-month growing season. At harvest time, beets are about a foot long, weigh 2-5 pounds, and contain 18% sucrose. Because beets are perishable and harvesting is seasonal, factories work around the clock seven days a week from October to April to make sugar. Processing involves washing and slicing beets into thin strips and extracting and filtering the raw juice until it becomes a syrup. Crystals then form on the syrup, and this is separated, dried, and packaged. Eventually, this sugar makes its way to grocery stores and food manufacturers – forming the basis of countless tasty treats Americans know and love.