The agricultural use of a Michigan-mined mineral supports the state’s leading role as a top producer of sugar.
Gypsum, a mineral found across the world, is one of several tools Michigan farmers use to steadily increase sugarbeet yield, according to Dr. Corey Guza, director of agronomy for Michigan Sugar Company.
“In those soils with higher pH, gypsum is a great fit for getting extra calcium and sulfur on those farms without affecting the pH,” Guza says. “Gypsum is a standard recommendation for soils that have the higher pH that sugarbeets prefer.”
While manufacturers most commonly use gypsum to make building products like drywall, gypsum also has applications in Portland cement production, glass manufacturing, food making and agricultural production, says Kevin Moyer, director of industrial products for USG Corporation. In the agriculture industry, farmers have used gypsum for decades as an amendment to improve soil structure, especially heavy clay soils. They also apply it over their fields to add valuable soil nutrients, including calcium and sulfur, without altering soil pH.
According to Guza, sugarbeets demand higher amounts of calcium than most other crops and the crop needs sulfur, too. Calcium helps with cell wall structure in the beet, and sulfur supports beet growth and development. Gypsum offers a natural and local choice for soils with those needs.
USG Corporation extracts gypsum at its more than a century-old quarry in Alabaster Township, as well as 11 other mines and quarries throughout North America. Farmers or agribusiness retailers can spread the ground gypsum rock across their fields, similar to agricultural lime.
“Gypsum is a great mineral,” Guza says. “In terms of sugarbeet production, gypsum is added to the processing water with the sliced beets, and that allows sugar producers to extract more liquid out of the beets, improving the sugar yield of each and every beet.”
He also says the remaining pulp is drier. This reduces the energy necessary to dry the leftover pulp, which is pressed into pellets to feed Michigan livestock.
Gypsum carries a long history in Michigan and represents one of the earliest forms of fertilizer used in the United States. This natural processing agent proves just as valuable today, supporting crop production, reducing waste, increasing profitability and allowing for more Michigan-grown products to make their way into domestic and international markets.