Leafy beets have been grown since pre-Roman times, however sugar beets (Beta vulgaris L.) were relatively recently domesticated in the late 18th century. A sugar beet is a plant whose root contains a high concentration of sucrose and which is grown commercially for sugar production.
The sugar beet has a conical, white, fleshy root (a taproot) wit h a flat crown. The plant consists of the root and a rosette of leaves. Sugar is formed by photosynthesis in the leaves and is then stored in the root, containing 75% water, about 20% sugar, and 5% pulp. Breeding has led to cultivated beets wi th a biennial reproductive schedule, flowering only after overwintered vernalization.
Sugar beets grow exclusively in the temperate zone, in contrast to sugarcane, which grows exclusively in the tropical and subtropical zones. Sugar beets grown in the northern hemisphere are typically planted in the early spring with harvesting 5–9 months later depending on soil and environmental conditions. In warmer or Mediterranean climates, “winter beets” can be planted in the fall and allow harvest through the following spring, summer, or fall.
Sugar beet foliage grows to a height of about 35 cm (14 in). A mature sugar beet root can grow to 1–2 kg (2.2–4.4 pounds) and can contain 8–22 percent sucrose by weight. The most important requirement is the soil must contain a large supply of nutrients, be rich in humus, and be able to contain a great deal of moisture. Fertilizers are applied to sugar beets from the beginning of sowing through the entire growth period.
Around 37% of the world’s sugar comes from beet (the remainder being extracted from sugar cane). With close to 42 million tons, that accounts for 15% of the world´s sugar beet production, the Russian Federation is the top country by sugar beet production, followed by France, the United States, Germany, and Turkey. The world´s total sugar beet production is estimated at 275 million tons (a total harvested area close to 5 million hectares), and therefore a valuable conventional crop throughout temperate areas of the world.
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