And the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby is _____________.
Regardless of the name filling in the blank, chances are good that a race-day food derived from sugarbeets powered them across the finish line. That’s because most Kentucky Derby participants, including Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, feast on sugarbeet pulp before heading to the starting gate.
Pulp is the tissue of the beet left over after sugar is extracted, and it’s prized in equine circles as a dietary additive because it is fiber-rich, full of energy and aids digestion.
Midwest Agri-Commodities is a California-based company that sells beet pulp on behalf of four sugarbeet cooperatives in Michigan, Minnesota and North Dakota. Each year, they market 1.7 million tons of sugarbeet co-products for U.S. farmers.
“A big percentage of our business is feed, and there’s a lot that goes into it,” explained Andy Ford, the company’s president.
Beet pulp isn’t exclusively used by prized thoroughbreds. Beef cattle, dairy herds, pigs and other livestock all eat it, and you can find the pulp in many pet foods. Pulp is shipped to farms and feedlots in many forms, too, including pellets and shreds – the dried, non-pelleted form of pulp most favored by horses.
“Our entire company is rooted in sustainability – in repurposing leftovers to help sugar farmers use every part of their crop and make a little extra money during the tough times,” Ford explained.
And this U.S. sustainability story stretches to the far corners of the globe.
Japan is the biggest importer, buying 190,000 to 200,000 tons of sugarbeet pulp every year for its dairy industry.
“We are the dominant supplier to Japan, and we are in the process of replicating that success elsewhere,” said Ford, who was born and raised in Japan and has a background in logistics.
Europe and Northern Africa are areas where Midwest Agri-Commodities also has a strong presence. Exploring and expanding into new markets is a big company goal.
A recent collaborative effort, involving many within the U.S. sugar industry, resulted in America becoming the first country to gain import approval for sales into China. Midwest Agri-Commodities sent 70,000 tons to China’s livestock sector in 2018 before ongoing trade disputes stalled further sales.
“I take pride when I market internationally in knowing that America’s beet pulp quality and reputation is unmatched,” Ford said.
The company often sees a premium price for its exports, and Ford said the Made-In-America brand is the reason.
“Our quality and the dependability of our delivery logistics set us apart,” he said, “and it’s why I’m so bullish about the future of these sustainable products.”
There’s good reason to be confident because, in addition to feed, Midwest Agri-Commodities and others in the sugar industry are investing in research and constantly finding new and inventive uses of sugarbeet and sugarcane waste.
Pulp is being used as mulch for mushroom production, de-sugared liquid removed from beets is used in the construction industry to make adhesives and concrete hardener, and beet juice is even being applied to roads throughout the United States, including Washington, D.C., to melt away ice and snow.
Ford thinks that’s just the beginning of what’s possible.
Beet byproducts are in development for things as varied as sports drinks, cosmetics, paint and even a replacement for Styrofoam containers.
“Sugar has an exceptional sustainability story to tell,” he concluded. “We’ve been focused on it a long time, and as long as a strong U.S. sugar policy remains in place, I think we’ll be supplying consumers with world-class sugar and co-products for a long time to come.”