Hallock, Minn., grower Kelly Erickson took the reins as president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association during ASGA’s annual meeting in early February. In his first address to the group as president, he introduced himself, discussed the challenges ahead, and offered a road map on how ASGA can successfully meet those challenges. Here are his remarks.
ASGA President Kelly Erickson
Thank you for this great opportunity to lead one of the finest agricultural organizations in our country.
I want to thank the ASGA Board of Directors for their unanimous vote for my election. I want to thank the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association for their many years of support. Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank my wife, Karen, in advance for the time I will spend on the business of this organization.
This position comes with the great responsibility of guiding our industry through the many challenges we face going forward. As growers, you need to leave this place knowing the answers to four basic questions.
First, who am I? I have been growing beets, along with wheat and soybeans, for 36 years. I farmed with my father from 1976 until he retired, and am now farming with my son, Scott, who is the fifth-generation Erickson on our farm. Scott and I raise 800 acres of sugarbeets.
I have been married to my wife, Karen, for 34 years. We have three children: Scott; Sarah, who is a lawyer in St. Paul, Minn.; and Mary Beth, who is attending physical therapist school in Duluth, Minn.
I belong to the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association and served as its president for four years. I also am a member of the Minnesota Wheat Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
Second, where we are as an industry? As of this moment, we are doing well. We have Roundup Ready® sugarbeets, the markets are strong, we have pretty good risk management tools, and no pending trade agreement presents an imminent threat to our industry.
Third, what challenges and uncertainties do we face in the year ahead? The dictionary defines uncertainty as “the lack of knowledge about an outcome or a result.” You already know most of the major issues where great uncertainties lie. We constantly face challenges in each of the branches of government. In the legislative branch, we have the 2012 elections, a farm bill and threats to our policy through an agricultural appropriation bill. In the executive branch, there is the management of current sugar policy, the resolution of issues with Mexico in the North American market, and the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the judicial branch, we continue to deal with the Roundup Ready litigation.
Fourth, how do we meet those challenges? How do we lead in a landscape littered in uncertain and turbulent times? How do we succeed in an increasingly hostile economic and political environment?
It is no secret that political incivility and polarization have produced a dysfunctional Congress. We have a federal debt that is crippling our nation, and addressing it will dictate the scope and spending of future policies across the government, including agriculture. We have a domestic economy and global economies that are struggling to climb out of these difficult times.
How does our industry weave itself through this gauntlet of formidable challenges?
I have 10 fundamental principles for succeeding in these times. You may view them as somewhere between the Ten Commandments and David Letterman’s Top 10 list.
• First, we must have unity. We learned long ago from President Lincoln that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” We must have unity at home within our cooperatives, within the beet industry, between the beet and cane sugar sectors, and in our work with other commodity groups and farm organizations.
“No one can defeat us unless we first defeat ourselves.” — Dwight Eisenhower
“In unity there is strength, and we are strong only as long as each unit in our organization functions with precision.” — Tilden
The unified sugar industry is legendary and the keystone of our success. We must and will stand together. We will continue our strong relationships with other commodity groups.
• Second, we must have vision. How do we keep what we have and/or improve upon it? Your grower leaders have great clarity in that vision and will continue to pursue it.
• Third, we must have commitment. The ASGA Board of Directors just spent several days in meetings, and I must tell you that your grower leaders are committed to achieving success in a number of areas. That means making personal sacrifices of time and effort to achieve our objectives for our growers.
• Fourth, we need focus. Figure out what is important, make it a priority — and remove the multitude of distractions that inundate us. Keep your focus laser sharp.
• Fifth, we need talent and expertise. Last October, I had the fortunate opportunity to see all of the sugar industry reps and our industry consultants work on the 2012 American Sugar Alliance annual strategic plan that covers all aspects of the challenges we face. We have a tremendous pool of talent, with great expertise and decades of experience. I slept very well that night, knowing how well our industry is able to address any issue before us.
• Sixth, we need preparation. It is often said that success occurs when preparation meets opportunity. We are prepared for any battle that presents itself.
• Seventh, we need courage. If we can find a better way to do things, we cannot be afraid to bring ideas forward. After all, if you are going to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat.
• Eighth, we need persistence. Do not give up. The sugar industry does not give up — ever. That is our reputation. Remember, it isn’t about getting knocked down; everyone gets knocked down once in a while. It’s getting back up that counts.
• Ninth, we must communicate. We have to tell the story of our industry and our policy every day to decision makers and the media. This is why our political action committees are so incredibly important. They allow our growers and our talented staff to constantly tell our good story to new members of Congress and staff.
• Tenth, we must have humility.
I, as your president, come to you as a humble servant. The Scriptures tell us that in order to be a great leader, you must be a servant to the people you lead. While we may deal with big egos outside our organization, they do not dwell within our organization.
So, stay unified . . . have vision . . . be committed . . . stay focused . . .
increase your expertise . . . be prepared
. . . have courage . . . never give up . . . talk to people . . . and be humble. If we do all of these things individually and collectively, our future is bright. I have the greatest confidence in who we are and where we are headed. It is a great time to be in the beet sugar business, and together we will maintain and build upon our success.