TABER, Alta. – Talks have gone sour between sugar company Lantic Inc. and southern Alberta farmers who produce Canada’s only homegrown source of the sweetener.
The Alberta Sugar Beet Growers marketing board said it rejected a final offer from Lantic on a new multi-year deal on Friday.
Lantic vice-president Manon Lacroix said Monday if that decision stands, the company would phase out its use of sugar beets once inventories are used up.
She said to make up the difference Lantic would ramp up production of imported raw sugarcane from South America.
“We would finalize the processing of the Taber inventory and then our customers would be supplied through our cane facilities we have in Vancouver or Montreal,” she said.
Lantic’s website says its sugar beet factory in Taber, Alta., can produce up to 150,000 tonnes of sugar per year.
She suggested the factory, which employs around 100 people during most of the year and up to 300 people during harvest, would close if there is no deal.
“If there are no beets there is nothing to process,” she said from Montreal.
Gerald Third, executive director of the Beet Growers board, said up to 250 producers were to meet late Monday afternoon to discuss the impasse.
He said the sticking point comes down to how much Lantic is willing to pay for Canadian-grown sugar beets.
“Lantic has indicated that they can purchase sugarcane cheaper offshore from foreign countries,” he said.
Lacroix said a previous three-year agreement with growers expired at the end of 2014.
In recent years the company has reduced the number of beet hectares it contracted in Alberta from about 12,000 in 2012 to about 8,900 last year.
In 1997 and 1998, Rogers Sugar Ltd. spent close to $65 million to modernize the plant to process up to 20,000 hectares of beets per year. Lantic Sugar Limited and Rogers merged in 2008 to form Lantic Inc.
Gary Allred, president of United Food and Commercial Workers local 383, said union members who work at the Taber plant are worried.
“It’s our jobs,” Allred said. “It (the Lantic plant) generates a lot of money for the community.”
Third said the board has the power under Alberta law to negotiate the contract with Lantic but will listen closely Monday to growers about how they feel about the company’s offer.
“The offer was rejected on the basis that it fell short of where the board believes the industry needs to be,” he said. “If the growers ask the board to change that, then the board will absolutely take that under consideration.”
— By John Cotter in Edmonton