A 42-year career in the sugarbeet industry is drawing to a close for Cal Jones; and it’s ending, to his great satisfaction, not far from where it started.
Jones is retiring April 1 as president and CEO of Worland-based Wyoming Sugar Company, LLC. As the crow flies, Worland is just 65 miles from Powell, where he grew up. His career has taken him to Montana, Texas, Colorado, back to Texas — and then, in 2002, home to Wyoming. During that time, he has successively served as a sugar company agriculturist, agricultural manager, byproduct sales director, vice president of agriculture, vice president-commodities and company president/CEO.
But Jones’ earliest sugarbeet memories come from fields east of Powell. His uncle, Earl Jones (father of Terry Jones, a former American Sugarbeet Growers Association president), grew beets, and Cal worked for him. “Terry and I have many memories of working side-by-side at various farming activities,” he says.
“My most vivid memories are of when we decided we could make some ‘easy money’ thinning beets (with short-handle hoes) like the ‘nationals’ (migrants), who made it look easy. We were definitely wrong — but had to complete the task we had agreed to perform!”
Setting irrigation tubes is another seared memory from that north central Wyoming youth during the ’50s and ’60s. As any veteran irrigator understands, “we not only had to move the tubes to the head ditch, but had to pick them up and move them farther down the ditch for the next set. That farm enterprise needed more irrigation tubes!”
Following high school, Cal received an agricultural scholarship to Northwest Community College in Powell, where he earned an associate degree in general agriculture. He continued his education at the University of Wyoming, earning a B.S. degree in crop science.
His first job in the beet industry was as a fieldman with Holly Sugar at Hardin, Mont. With his wife, Donna, and one-year-old son, Darren, he moved to Hardin in a week when the thermometer plunged to -32 degrees — “and we moved into a cold, cold rental house.” That was in 1969. Two years later, he moved to Holly’s Sidney, Mont., district.
Jones was promoted to senior agriculturist in 1974 and transferred to Holly’s factory district at Hereford, Texas. He was subsequently promoted to assistant ag manager and later agricultural manager at Hereford. While there, he also was responsible for marketing of byproducts produced from the Texas Panhandle beet crop — including the expansion of the local animal feed market into New Mexico dairy areas.
Other responsibilities during the Hereford years included expansion of the beet production area and factory receiving capacity, along with changing the philosophy and method of reloading stock-piled beets (i.e., using trucks instead of rail).
Jones remained at Hereford for 11 years, finding them among the most enjoyable of his long career. “We were there long enough to raise our family and provide a good Christian background for our two sons,” he reflects. It was also in Hereford where Cal became very well acquainted with the late Bill Cleavinger, former ASGA president and longtime president of the Texas-New Mexico growers association. “Bill always had a positive attitude and Christian approach to handling situations in a no-nonsense manner — as well as the technique for successful lobbying for what you believe in,” Jones observes.
In 1986 Jones accepted a transfer to Holly Sugar’s corporate office at Colorado Spring, Colo., as assistant director of byproduct sales for the company’s eight beet sugar factories. He was promoted to director later that year.
The following year, 1987, Holly promoted Jones to vice president of agriculture. His portfolio encompassed all agriculture functions, beet seed division operations, agricultural research programs and editing Sugarbeet Update, Holly’s grower-focused magazine. He also served as president of Holly Sugar Export Corporation, with responsibility for international marketing of byproducts (mainly in Japan, Europe, Mexico and Canada).
Holly Sugar merged with Sugar Land, Texas-based Imperial Sugar Company in 1988, and Jones assumed responsibility for marketing byproducts from Imperial’s cane sugar refineries in addition to those from beet sugar factories. The cane refineries operated added-value liquid feed businesses, and those products were marketed in new areas around the continental United States. The merger also brought four more beet sugar factories under the corporate umbrella (those of Michigan Sugar Company) and one more cane refinery (with the purchase of Savannah Foods).
The Wyoming farm boy was promoted to vice president-commodities for Imperial Sugar in 1989 — a post he held for the next 13 years. His duties expanded to include the negotiation and purchase of raw cane sugar for the three Imperial refineries (Sugar Land, Texas, Savannah, Ga., and Gramercy, La.). He also was responsible for the negotiation and purchase of energy needs for all the company’s facilities — including the Michigan beet factories.
Imperial Sugar Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 2001 after struggling with lower refined sugar sales and higher energy costs. The company emerged from Chapter 11 later that year, as it simultaneously downsized its operations. It either closed or sold the former Holly Sugar beet factories and also ended up selling the four Michigan Sugar factories to that state’s growers.
Cal Jones found a new home in 2002. In that year he accepted the post of president and CEO for Wyoming Sugar Company, LLC (now a wholly owned subsidiary of Wyoming Sugar Growers, LLC). Wyoming Sugar consisted of beet growers and other investors from the state of Wyoming who purchased the former Holly Sugar factory at Worland in order to keep sugarbeets in the Big Horn Basin and Fremont County areas. Longtime Worland grower Dick McKamey has served as chairman of Wyoming Sugar since its inception.
Jones had been aware of the establishment of Wyoming Sugar and the company’s search for a CEO. After discussion with his wife and family about another move [their two sons and their families reside in the Texas Panhandle (Darren) and northern Colorado (Jason), respectively], “we decided to interview, with the mindset of ‘what will be will be.’ ” He was offered the job, they moved — and now nine years have passed. “We are very thankful and have no regrets of moving to Wyoming Sugar,” says the veteran sugar man.
Wyoming Sugar has transitioned from being a broadly held entity (with non-grower investors) to now being a company wholly owned by sugarbeet producers. For Jones, that ranks among the most satisfying aspects of his tenure with the company. “It has created a sense of stability within our acreage base with committed growers,” he emphasizes.
With its daily beet slicing capacity of 3,600 tons, the Worland factory is the second smallest in the country (next to Western Sugar’s Lovell, Wyo., plant). And with just the single plant, Wyoming Sugar Growers is the nation’s smallest beet sugar processor. Its refined sugar is marketed by Cargill, Inc., while Wyoming Sugar sells the pulp and molasses byproducts on its own. (Given his background, Jones was the logical person to handle byproduct sales. The standard quip in the boardroom since then has been that sugar sales are handled by Cargill and byproduct sales by “Calgil.”)
“The company — the board of managers and management — has developed a business plan for our size,” Jones states. “We continue to operate following that business plan, with committed growers and finished products to fill our market niche.”
A look back across four-plus decades in the sugar industry conjures up lots of good memories — and many changes — for Cal Jones. “I’ve seen the agronomics change from the short-handle hoe and migrant field labor, to plant-to-stand,” he notes. “I’ve also witnessed the advent of improved seed quality, disease packages and increased yield potential.” Growers for Wyoming Sugar also produced the first commercial Roundup Ready® beets in the nation, in 2007.
“I have enjoyed my tenure, and hope my contributions have had meaning and encouragement for those I’ve had contact with — whether employees, growers or those in the communities where we’ve lived,” Jones remarks.
Dick McKamey says that in retrospect, Wyoming Sugar’s directors couldn’t have found a better team leader than Cal Jones upon their purchase of the former Holly factory back in 2002. “He was really what we needed for a very nervous industry at that time,” McKamey recalls. “We were buying this factory out of bankruptcy. We had some pretty nervous employees, and it took someone with Cal’s extreme personalism and rapport with employees to really bring it forward.
“Cal took a group of talented employees and developed them into an experienced and cohesive operating management group, and this management team will lead Wyoming Sugar going forward.
“He really deserves the best of accolades.”
Cal and Donna Jones plan to do some traveling in retirement, visiting their children and grandchildren — and even taking fall trips, which was a very rare event during all those years of overseeing sugarbeet harvests. He intends to do some consulting as well, given his breadth of background in the sugar industry, and — just as importantly — plans to do “more fishing in Wyoming.”
Editor & General Manager of The Sugarbeet Grower