Duane Grant is Snake River Sugar Company’s second chairman, succeeding Terry Ketterling of Mountain Home, Idaho, who served in that capacity from 1996 (the year SRSC was established) until 2009. Grant joined the SRSC board in 2003, so he had an inside familiarity with the cooperative’s workings prior to taking over the chairmanship. Still, he admits to seeing some things in a new light since becoming chairman.
“There are a tremendous number of opportunities available to the cooperative by virtue of our position in the sugar industry,” he exemplifies. “American Crystal is obviously the largest player, but we’re second largest. So we are in the game. And as the industry moves forward and adapts to different market situations, different supply/demand situations, there are opportunities that can be advantageous to our members. I think that’s been the biggest surprise to me as chairman: Those do come up, and you have to respond — either saying, ‘No, we’re not interested,’ or ‘Yes, let’s develop it and take it to the board.’ Sugar is ubiquitous, and a lot of customers are interested in exploring how they can develop relations with the sugar industry that could provide opportunities to both sides.”
One of the biggest movements by SRSC/Amalgamated in recent years was the 2011 establishment of National Sugar Marketing LLC, a joint venture with cane sugar partner Sucden Americas Corporation, based in Florida. “It’s working very well, and we think it’s the right model for us for the foreseeable future,” Grant says of the co-op’s new marketing arm. While Amalgamated previously sold sugar on a national scale, “there were some areas of the country where our presence was minimal” — the East Coast being a good example. National Sugar Marketing “gives us a nice tie to both supply sectors — beet and cane — and a more-stable supply as well, since we can better hedge the weather risk,” he states.
Given the nature of commodity markets, “the cooperative must always be cognizant of the relative competitiveness of beets as compared to other crops,” Grant stresses. “We must continuously make investment decisions that will enhance both the amount and stability of return to our members.”
Every sugar company emphasizes that goal, of course — but there’s one reason why Snake River/Amalgamated’s leadership perhaps feels the pressure even more. Unlike in the nation’s other sugarbeet cooperatives, SRSC shareholders can surrender and walk away from their shares with no penalty. “We are comfortable with this structure, but it requires the cooperative to deliver returns and sustain a vision for the future that entices members to remain committed beet growers,” Grant points out.
“The ability to forfeit also serves to keep the cooperative very sensitive to the quality of the interface between our members and the cooperative,” he adds. “For example, the cooperative is investing heavily to minimize receiving station lines to the maximum extent possible so that our members’ investment in harvesting equipment is efficiently utilized.”
The Amalgamated growing region is not homogeneous, its chairman points out — and that reality can be simultaneously beneficial and challenging. There are three unique areas: the Upper Valley (eastern Idaho), at an elevation of around 4,500 feet; the Magic Valley (south central Idaho), at about 3,500 feet; and the Treasure Valley (western Idaho and eastern Oregon), whose elevation is around 2,500 feet. “This provides opportunity to mitigate risk through distinctly different weather patterns,” Grant says. “But it also serves to raise costs, as the cultural practices — seed, equipment, irrigation methods, etc. — are very different across the spectrum and cannot be easily mass-replicated.”
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Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower