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Walking into Harrison Weber’s office, your eyes quickly wander to two battered toy tractors sitting on the forefront of his desk. Clearly banged up and bruised from years of rough housing and play, the toys have a stark contrast to the rest of the well-polished and professional room. Those toy tractors, one green and the other red, tell the story of Weber’s agricultural background and where he came from.
“This John Deere tractor is the tractor that sat on my grandfather’s kitchen shelf, and the Case tractor is the one I used to play with in the sandbox. That’s why it is so dirty, it reminds me of my childhood,” Weber said.
Weber grew up in Casselton, N.D., helping on his family’s farm. The farm encompasses a variety of crops, ranging from wheat, corn, sugar beets, sunflowers and more. For Weber, growing up on his family’s farm was an experience he will never forget.
“I grew up driving trucks and sweeping bins and doing all the stuff that farm kids do. I remember the smells of harvest and spending time with my family. I remember the long days and long hours working, but how rewarding they were. It brings back a lot of good memories just thinking about the farm,” Weber said.
Weber went on to attend Valley City State University where he majored in business and was also on the men’s basketball team. After he received his undergraduate degree, Weber began attended the University of North Dakota, where he received his law degree.
Weber began working for the North Dakota Legislature as a clerk for the Senate Ag Committee. It was there that he found his calling.
“My time spent in the Legislature really solidified where I wanted to be. As a law clerk, I got to be a fly on the wall and see a lot of the commodity group leaders come in and lobby for farmers. That really solidified what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Shortly after that, I knew I wanted to be in the commodity group world,” Weber said.
After spending some time with the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, as well as the North Dakota Soybean Council, Weber took a position with The Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, where he still works today.
Weber is the executive director of the association and represents the sugar beet growers within the Red River Valley. Through this position he communicates with growers in the region, helps producers with crop insurance issues, studies the market, interacts with their partners in D.C., and much more.
Much like the rest of the agricultural industry, sugar beet producers have been having some tribulations as well.
“We're coming off of two really challenging harvests for us. Last year was actually a historic disaster for us. We left about 30% of our crop in the field for American Crystal. And it really hit our guys and Valley hard,” Weber said.
However, things seem to be looking up for sugar beet growers this year and Weber is hopeful about the outcome.
“We are excited about this year’s harvest and to get back in the fields, and do what we do best: make sugar,” Weber said.
Weber is excited to see where the future of the ag industry is headed, and looks forward to seeing what advances come next.
“I think we always need to be optimistic looking into the future. Things are challenging on the farm. I am excited for the future in all of the ag industry. I am excited to see how we continue to grow and advance,” Weber said.
As for the upcoming years for Weber in the industry, he hopes to stay with the Red River Valley Sugar beet Growers Association, with those memory-filled tractors still seated on his desk.
“Sugar beets have been a really big piece of our farm and our family. I hope to be here continuing to be the voice for sugar beet growers in the Red River Valley,” Weber said.
Sugar Beet News |
via Agweek https://www.agweek.com
September 29, 2020 at 05:19PM
The sugarbeet harvest is all about timing.
The beets can't be stockpiled when temperatures are warm, or they spoil. But they have to be harvested before the ground freezes.
So in September, farmers in northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota have to harvest just enough to keep five sugar-making factories in the Red River Valley running.
Then, in early October, when it's cold enough to stockpile the beets for processing through the winter, the harvest shifts into high gear.
When that happens, workers come from across the country to help to bring in the haul. Weather is typically the biggest harvest concern — last year, a wet fall and an early winter brought the process to a sputtering halt. But this year, COVID-19 has everyone, from farmers to processors, nervous.
Neil Rockstad, who farms near Ada, Minn., hires eight employees to drive tractors and trucks for the harvest. He's just one of hundreds of sugarbeet growers in the Red River Valley looking for workers. His harvest has already begun.
"My shift this year starts at two in the morning and goes until two in the afternoon," he said. "I run six trucks for 12 hours and harvest for that intense time and then we shut down and get some rest and hit it again at two in the morning."
Rockstad said it's been a bit harder than usual this year to find workers.
“I think there are some people that are cautious about working harvest as they have in the past just because of the threat of COVID or the risk of infection," he said.
Rockstad is also president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, the 2,800 growers that own the American Crystal Sugar Cooperative, the largest beet sugar producer in the country.
The association doesn’t track how many workers are hired by farmers, said executive director Harrison Weber. But he estimates farmers need more than 4,000 people to bring in the crop when the full-scale harvest starts in October.
On the farm it's fairly easy to maintain social distance: one person in a truck — one person in a tractor.
But this year, there will also be an emphasis on washing hands and sanitizing truck and tractor cabs.
And when truckloads of beets are hauled to the factory, or to one of 36 sites where they are stockpiled, masks are required anytime the truck windows are opened.
Each time a loaded truck arrives, it’s weighed to track the harvest. In the past, the scale operator and truck driver would exchange paper tickets. This year, the driver will hold up a bar code to be scanned at a distance.
And there’s another ritual on hold this year.
"No handing coffee through the scale house window — which was kind of a kind of a nice convenience for our guys,” said Rockstad. “That just won't happen this year."
Rockstad doesn't house workers on his farm, but Dan Younggren does.
Younggren farms near the Canadian border, and he’ll hire about a dozen workers for harvest from places like Duluth, Grand Rapids and as far away as Colorado. About half will stay in a bunkhouse his family maintains on the farm.
"We've got things ready to go. We've got enough spaces in rooms for everybody to have their own bedroom," said Younggren.
The workers will share a bathroom, a kitchen and a common area. Social distancing will be strongly encouraged. There will be no group meals. Workers will eat in their trucks. Truck cabs will be sanitized between shifts.
Younggren will lay out his expectations for workers, but he won’t have time to monitor their behavior. He’s hoping everyone follows the rules.
"At the end of the day, you know what, we're all grownups here. We have to have some accountability on our own,” he said.
There have only been a handful of COVID-19 cases in Kittson County, where Younggren farms, so he thinks the risk to his workers is relatively low, assuming they don't bring the virus with them.
On the receiving side of the harvest, American Crystal Sugar Co. will have nearly 2,000 workers running five sugar-making factories, which typically process beets from September until May.
The company will be checking temperatures and requiring masks. In areas where workers have to be in close contact, plexiglass dividers have been installed. Plans for rapid contact tracing are in place for when workers get sick.
Starting in October, nearly 1,500 temporary workers will also be working the 36 sites where beets are stockpiled 24 hours a day until the harvest is completed. The goal is to finish the harvest in two weeks. Hundreds of those workers come from across the country every year, many living in campers they park in small towns across the region.
"The vast majority are still planning to come up," said Vice President for Agriculture Brian Ingulsrud, and American Crystal is already letting those workers know about the coronavirus safety measures that will be in place.
"So that they feel safe when they're driving up here with their campers, that they're going to be taken care of,” said Ingulsrud.
Ingulsrud is confident the company is taking the appropriate proactive measures to mitigate the coronavirus impact on factory operations.
"Those are things you can control while people are on the job. You really can't control what happens when people leave the job. And that makes me nervous," he said.
Last year, wet weather shut down the harvest before it was complete, leaving about a third of the crop to rot in the ground.
Weather is a concern again this year, as usual, with already wet conditions in some areas, but Neil Rockstad is also nervous about the additional uncertainty COVID-19 brings.
"If it did happen to get through a farm operation, it could shut down the entire farm operation and you could risk not being able to harvest because of a disease," said Rockstad.
And he's not sure what Plan B might look like if there's an outbreak among his workers.
"Chances are, you'll be relying on your neighbors. If somebody in the neighborhood has a harvest crew that comes down ill, they'll probably get help from their neighbors at the end to finish things up, and that's probably the backup plan," he said.
The plans — and backup plans — are likely to be tested when full-scale harvest begins Oct. 1. Ingulsrud hopes the virus control efforts will be fine-tuned by then.
“We've got a great business, but unless we have beets harvested to process, we don't have anything, and so we’ve got to make sure that we've got people [to work] and give them assurances that we will keep them healthy,” he said.
https://ift.tt/3ijcNtw Sugar Beet News |
via MPR News https://www.mprnews.org
September 29, 2020 at 05:18PM
Red River Valley Sugarbeet Grower's Association President Neil Rockstad talks 2019 harvest moving forward
It is a well known fact that working in the agriculture industry has its fair share of unknowns. From wavering market prices to unpredictable weather, agriculturalists have learned to weather the storm. Through wading in these storms, farmers have gone above and beyond proving their resilience, even after disaster strikes. Sugar beet growers in the Red River Valley region, like Neil Rockstad, are a perfect example of that resilience.
Rockstad grew up on his family’s farm located in the Red River Valley, helping his grandfather, father and uncle on their family’s operation where they grew wheat, soybeans and barley. Quickly, the passion for production agriculture was instilled into Rockstad.
“While there are some jobs in the industry that may seem more attractive and less high-risk than being a farmer, production ag is where my interest lies,” Rockstad said.
Rockstad is a fourth generation farmer himself and now farms the ground he grew up on, but that is not his only family tie back to the Minnesota soil.
“I farm land that both my great-grandfathers farmed on, and I also farm on land that my wife’s grandfather farmed on. It means a lot to have that family connection to the land,” he said.
Growing up, Rockstad was an active 4-H and FFA member. He showed sheep as well as horses and participated in demonstrations and public speaking through the organization.
When it came time for Rockstad to enter college, he decided to stick with the industry he had come to love, choosing agriculture. Rockstad graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in ag economics and minors in ag systems management and crop and weed science. Taking his education with him, Rockstad came back to the family farm.
He helped his father to begin with and slowly took over as the head of the farm. While Rockstad currently raises wheat and soybeans, he took on a different venture than his father: sugar beets.
“I started raising sugar beets in 1998. My dad never raised them but my grandfather and uncle had. I took over the sugar beets after my uncle retired. He had been in sugar beets for 50 years. He asked me if I wanted to take them over, and that’s how I got my start,” Rockstad said.
And take over, he did. After taking over the reins to the sugar beet operation, Rockstad not only has farmed the crop, but also has become a leading advocate for sugar beets. Rockstad is currently the president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association as well as a board member to the American Sugarbeet Growers Association. Through these positions, Rockstad helps not only the sugar beet growers in the Red River Valley be heard, but growers all around the country.
Growers in The Red River Valley expect a much better harvest season than 2019. (Emily Beal / Agweek)
The past couple of years have been hard on not just the agriculture industry, but its producers as well; sugar beet growers are no exception. The past two years for sugar beet growers in the Red River Valley have been abnormally difficult.
“In 2018, our harvest was drug out. It was an absolute grind and battle until the very end. Lots of rain delays. We were just happy we completed and were able to be done for the season,” Rockstad said.
But the 2018 harvest could not possibly compare to the sugar beet harvest 2019 brought to the Valley's sugar beet producers.
“The 2019 harvest was a nightmarish mess. Harvest started out wet, and the first days of October it started to rain large amounts often, up and down the Red River Valley. It was a fight every step of the way. What should have been a two-week harvest went to 45 days, and we left a large percentage of the crop in the field unharvested. I left a third of my crop in the fields. You always look for a better tomorrow as a farmer and there was just never a better tomorrow,” Rockstad said.
Unlike crops such as soybeans, once the ground freezes, farmers are not able to get in and harvest sugar beets. This posed an issue for sugar beet producers in the 2019 harvest. The frozen soil was an obstacle that many farmers could not overcome.
“We were able to pull some sugar beets out when the ground was semi-frozen, but then the mud was the same size as the sugar beat. Sometimes you’d be loading as many mud chunks as sugar beets into the harvester and that is just not acceptable,” Rockstad said.
The harvest was also extremely hard on equipment and was quite labor intensive, with many farmers putting in double the labor compared to a normal harvest and getting a much smaller outcome.
Though the past two harvest seasons have undoubtedly been difficult for sugar beet growers in the Red River Valley, things are beginning to look up.
“Everybody who is in the ag business is an eternal optimist. We know anything can happen, but we certainly don’t expect to see a repeat of last year and hope not to see a repeat like that for generations,” Rockstad said.
As for the sugar beet crop itself, it seems to be doing very well this year in the Red River Valley, a welcomed sight after the past two harvests. In addition, the state of the sugar industry is on an upward trend.
“The sugar industry itself is stable, especially during this whole coronavirus situation. Several commodities have faced up and downs because of that, but sugar has been able to weather those storms. People went back into the kitchen and started baking. The demand is strong. Overall, I think the sugar industry is in a good spot,” Rockstad said.
In spite of the treacherous harvests, sugar beet growers in the Red River Valley continue to show their perseverance, tenacity and spirit that is the agriculture industry.
https://ift.tt/3mZPo3P Sugar Beet News |
via Grand Forks Herald https://ift.tt/2zM6KZc
September 29, 2020 at 05:18PM
FARGO — Sugarbeet farmers will be hitting the fields 24/7 when harvest starts this October. With harvest season just around the corner, sharing the road with harvest vehicles can be dangerous.
Harrison Weber, executive director for the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, says timing is everything for a successful harvest. They have two weeks to maximize their profits and gather the 11 million tons of sugarbeets they plant every spring.
"We have a narrow window before freeze-up," Weber said. "We can't start too early, when it's too hot, but we have a narrow window to get all the beets in."
The harvest adds more than 3,200 harvesting trucks to local roads for sugarbeets alone. Weber says every year, he tells drivers to slow down and turn on their headlights. He also stresses to his drivers the importance of keeping alert while they are on the road.
"'If you're getting sleepy behind the wheel, stop. Get out of that truck and get yourself refreshed,'" Weber said.
Clay County Sheriff Mark Empting said crashes with beet trucks happen every year.
"There's always a danger that occurs on the road because we always have the larger trucks that are on the roadway operating at maybe a slower pace than most of the other traffic, because of the load of the sugarbeets that are in the truck," Empting said.
He stressed that people need to give the trucks extra space since they could turn into a field at any time.
"It's very important for people to use caution around those trucks, be mindful of the roadway, don't drive distracted and use some safe speeds," Empting said.
Another tip for sharing the road is to pull over on narrow roads to give truck drivers extra room.
Weber and Empting hope drivers will keep their advice advice in mind to help prevent more sugarbeet crashes as farmers head into harvest season.
Sugar Beet News |
via INFORUM https://www.inforum.com
September 29, 2020 at 05:11PM
ACH Seeds has named Natalie Smyer as the new Independent Sales Agent (ISA) serving customers around the greater south Cassia region of Idaho. Smyer has been a part of the sugar beet industry for several years and has most recently supported Bill Garrard over the last 12 years as an assistant to Mr. Garrard in his role as ISA for ACH Seeds.
Since her start as an assistant over 12 years ago, Smyer has established herself as a knowledge driven, sugarbeet seed specialist. She became familiar with sugarbeets as a child working on the family farm and in 4H where she planted and managed her own sugarbeet plot. As a strong community supporter Natalie contributes to her local FFA chapters and Blue Jacket programs. She has also contributed to local schools, 4H programs and sponsored livestock at the local fairs. She has supported the ACH Seeds Crystal brand with grower demonstration plots, hosted grower tours and informational seed meetings.
Smyer succeeds her father, Bill Garrard, as the newest ACH Seeds Crystal brand ISA. Her passion for sugarbeets, her community and her customers combined with her competence assures a high level of service and attention to detail that many ACH Seeds customers have come to rely on.