In the first days of June, Strube UK Ltd hosted a small study tour of sugar beet enthusiasts on a visit to the Po Valley south of Bologna, in the region of Emilia Romagna, Italy, to see the local agriculture and in particular the sugar beet seed being grown there for us.
The Strube Sugar Beet Tour
Sugar Beet Tour Day 1: Having flown into Bologna from Stansted, we were met at the airport by Mr. Vincenzo Boschetti, the managing director of Carla Import, the long-standing agents for Strube’s commercial sugar beet seed sales in Italy, who was to be our host for the first day. Mr Boschetti is responsible for sales of sugar beet, sunflower, wheat, rye and vegetable seeds and was a most accomplished and charming host.
Our first stop was to be a “light lunch”. In the programme that our guests received in advance of the trip, it had been noticed that lunches were written in as lasting 2 or 3 hours. This was a good idea. Vincenzo had organised our first lunch at ‘La Bottega di Franco‘, Via Agucchi 112, Bologna and it did not disappoint. Just minutes from the airport and the town centre, the courses and dishes combine the gastronomic tradition of Bologna with classic Italian cuisine and I can commend it to anyone visiting Bologna as an ideal place to start.
After lunch and much fortified, we visited the L.A.C.M.E. Co-operative, an agricultural co-operative, founded in 1950 and covering some 1,060 hectares to the north of the town of Medicine, between the villages of Fiorentina, Buda, Portonovo and St. Anthony. Here, in a former rice warehouse converted into a farm education centre, we were given a presentation on the state of Italian agriculture and sugar beet cultivation by Mr Boschetti and a presentation on the Co-op by the director of L.A.C.M.E.
Before the onset of the European Sugar Reform the Italian sugar beet industry was the 4th largest in Western Europe with over 230,000 hectares. Now just two factories and 35,000 hectares remain, but the enthusiasm for the beet is unwavering.
The LACME co-operative company has embraced the philosophy of multi-functionality and sustainability, so that as well as a commercial farm there is an educational farm, a flower nursery and a biogas plant. The protection and enhancement of the landscape and the environment lies at the heart of the company’s ethos and, despite being just a thousand hectares, the company provides employment for 29 people.
Our first night was spent in the pretty, small town of Mordano. After a substantial evening meal, some of the more adventurous of the party happened upon a local agricultural fair not far from the hotel. This was still under way in the late of the evening and, from what I heard, I believe that Anglo-Italian relations in the farming community were strengthened! Though quite how one person’s shoes came to be filled with beer, necessitating the wearing of a pair of brightly- coloured pair of promotional flip-flops the following day, remains a mystery…
Sugar Beet Tour Day 2: This was hosted by Mr. Domenigo Gasperini, known locally as Corrado, who is the head of Strube Italia S.pa., the Strube company in charge of seed production of sugar beet and sunflowers in Italy. We started with a presentation of all aspects of sugar beet seed production and what the company is tasked with performing. Many hundreds of hectares of hybrid seed crops are very carefully managed in the region to give us the best possible beet seeds. The level of attention to detail and dedication given to the crops by Corrado and his team is mind-boggling.
As the sun climbed again into an azure sky and the temperature stretched towards 30C, we visited seed crops of sugar beet seed between Imola and Castel Guelfo, in which the plants were just starting to flower, with pollen on the move. Our host felt that ‘so far’ this was a good year for seed production with the likelihood of good yield and quality. But as he stressed, there was still nearly two months before harvest. It was then on to a “light lunch” at Restaurant ‘La Volta’ in Via Selice 82, Imola, another one that gets our recommendation!
The afternoon was spent in San Marino, a mountainous micro-state, which is among the world’s oldest republics. With a total area of just over 60 square kilometres and a population of 32,000, San Marino is a rare and quaint example of survival. The capital, on the slopes of Monte Titano, is also called San Marino and has retained much of its historic architecture being well-known for its medieval walled old town and narrow cobblestone streets.
Our second night was spent on the shore of the Adriatic at the charming resort town of Cesenatico, where Mr. Gasperini was in his element and ensured that we were very well looked after at his favourite fish restaurant on the quayside. It is wonderful to behold a team of Italian waiters at the beck and call of a favourite customer! There is a thriving fishing community here and the produce of their labours was clear to see and also very delicious.