In the early nineteenth century, the West Indian Sugar Industry suffered as a result of the cultivation of the sugar beet. In the following essay, I will explain the effects that the cultivation of the sugar beet had on the production of cane sugar.
According to an article Sugar Beet from the Encarta Online, Blockade of Continental ports during the Napoleonic Wars cut off the supply of sugar cane from the West Indies and favored a development of an alternative source of sugar and the sugar beet was developed in Europe in the eighteenth century.
Interest in the sugar beet continued, and by 1811, a quantity of well-crystallized beet sugar had been produced (Early Sugar Beet History Volume 15, No.1 Fall, 1995).
The cultivation of sugar cane required a large labor force, expensive equipment, and long toiling hours to produce sugar. During the Napoleonic Wars, sugar was scarce and the need for a sweetener was in high demand.
According to Eric Williams, in 1859-1860 total world beet production amounted to 451,584 tons, one quarter of the world's total sugar production. In 1894-1895 total world beet production amounted to 4725,800 tons, more than ten times as much as in 1859;it was three-fifths of the world's cane production, three and a quarter times the total Caribbean production. (p.380-381)
The development of the European beet sugar industry was more dramatic than the striking developments, which had taken, place in the Caribbean and, in their day astounded the world.
The introduction of the sugar beet created new technology and science. For example, while the slaves remained dependent on the hoe, the beet cultivator introduced deep ploughing, substituting a plough that went to a depth of eleven inches for the conventional plough which went to only four to six inches.
Sugar beet was and is still a useful crop for farmers. Since it did not require large amounts of land, it was well adapted to smallholdings. As a result, it brought winter employment to the countryside, checked the drift to the towns and provided an enormous quantity of cattle feed.
Because of the high cost of sugar production, the Danish West Indies suffered immensely since they were unable to compete with the low cost of the sugar beet.
In his book, Eric Williams stated that the sugar industry went bankrupt by 1897(p.374). He continued "it was in a state of coma: its end seemed a mere matter of time"
The cost of labor for sugar production was much more higher than that to cultivate the sugar beet. As was stated earlier, sugar production required vast amount of lands...