It is a strange but nevertheless an enchanting paradox of the plant world that two entirely unrelated species of plants possess an identical quantity of sucrose (an organic compound or a kind of disaccharide) which is extracted and then processed inside a mill to obtain sugar. But then why is it that more than 80% of manufactured sugar in the world is derived from sugar-cane leaving out rival sugar-beet as a poor runner up. We need to know the answer.
In botanical terms the two plant species are as far apart as chalk and cheese. Sugar-cane is a member of the grass family(Poaceae or Gramineae) and is a group of species which are classified under the genus Saccharum. Sugar-beet is a member of the Amaranthaceae family(or Amaranth) under the genus Beta. But a farmer or an agronomist/horticulturist is not someone to be overwhelmed by botanical details. His prime concerns are related to healthy production of the crop and the benefits to be derived there-from.
It is an irony, that in spite of several obvious advantages enjoyed by sugar-beet over its rival, it is sugar-cane that is predominant across the globe in terms of acreage, cultivated varieties as well as the quantity of produce harvested and of course the end product. The reasons for this inconsistency are more historical than physical. A comparison on a time-scale will surely sound odious as the birth of sugar-cane predates that of sugar-beet by a few thousand years. Apart from localized cultivation in the tropical lands of the globe by the native communities, sugar-cane farming received a phenomenal boost after European communities(English, French, Italians, Germans, Portuguese, Spanish etc) colonized most of the tropical lands around the world and often employed slave or indentured labor on sugar-cane plantations, resulting in abundant production with marginal costs. It leaves no one in doubt that this amounted to wholesale violation of human rights, but we are referring to medieval times when laws to protect labor were non-existent, the Europeans were tyrannical, oppressive and ruled with impunity.
Let us explore the comparison between these two crops in a tabular format.
Sandy, loamy, well drained with humus
Sandy, loamy, even alkaline
Beet pulp, Beet molasses
- Canadian sugar Institute(website)
- Statistics Canada(website)