FARGO, N.D. — Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton wants to get back to its “gold standard” position in the sugar beet industry, but two years of weather, disease and equipment challenges have made that difficult.
President and CEO Kurt Wickstrom addressed the co-op’s annual meeting in Fargo on Tuesday, Dec. 4, and remained upbeat after equipment failures and weather challenges that have translated into disappointing 2018 beet prices.
Wickstrom declined to discuss what the company’s first annual beet payment projection is this year. About a third of the 2018 crop had emergence and frost problems, Wickstrom said. The growing season improved, but growers suffered their second-worst year of cercospora leaf disease despite diligent fungicide applications.
August crop samples indicated a 30-ton-per-acre yield and nice sugar content. “When all was said and done and the crop was delivered, the yield was just under 27 tons, which is still a good yield,” but the sugar content of 16.45 percent was over a percentage point less than the earlier samples.
The co-op reduced acreage in 2018 to 88,000 from the previous year’s 97,000 acres, Wickstrom said. A diffuser — a key factory component — broke down during the processing season. Because of that and other delays, the co-op processed 2017 beets until a record-late July 5, 2018. They needed to cut acres to allow for a vital summer maintenance schedule, and right-size the crop for an anticipated shorter processing season.
“We’re going to slice 350,000 to 400,000 fewer tons than last year and we’re dependent on that volume to produce a good grower payment,” Wickstrom said. “So our grower payment is not going to be what we’d hoped it was going to be.”
For 2019, the co-op is planning to go back to 101,000 acres, knowing they need volume.
Wickstrom said the company needs to make managed, planned, reasonable-sized investments in the facility; increase acres to fit a 260- to 270-day processing campaign; and increase sugar content and recoverable sugar per ton.
Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, covered the waterfront of national and international political conditions.
Markwart said all the pieces are put together for the farm bill, but declined to comment on specifics until it is passed and signed by President Donald Trump, which could happen in the coming weeks. The death of former President George H.W. Bush created a week’s delay.
Mexican sugar export problems of a few years ago have been “fixed and are working quite well,” Markwart said.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced NAFTA, appears acceptable.
Markwart said the administration is being very aggressive with one-on-one trading agreements with countries. The industry will be vigilant, paying special attention to any European Union agreement.
“Agriculture will be very tough with the Europeans, but in terms of sugar, they are now an exporter,” he said. “We’re an importer, and they export refined sugar. We don’t need any more refined sugar in this market because that threatens our U.S. cane refiners and puts pressure on beet sugar in the market. We don’t want that and we don’t need it.”
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December 20, 2018 at 09:01AM
Amalgamated Sugar Co. recently signed a joint-venture agreement with Vienna-based fruit, starch and sugar enterprise The Agrana Group to build a betaine crystallization plant at Agrana’s facility in Tulln, Austria.
Work on the nearly $40 million project is slated to start in early 2019 and take about a year.
Betaine is a by-product of sugar beets. It is extracted in the sugar production process. The vitamin-rich substance is used as a feed constituent to help animals naturally retain proper water and salt concentrations. It’s also used in food supplements, sports drinks and cosmetic products.
Amalgamated Sugar has been extracting liquid betaine from sugar beet molasses since 1994. The Boise-based company started producing crystalline betaine in 2005. The Beta Pura joint venture’s Austria plant will be the third production site in the world where natural, high-quality crystalline is produced, Amalgamated said in a news release.
Amalgamated Sugar is a world leader in crystalline betaine technology, company President and CEO John McCreedy said. “Our growers and company staff are looking forward to working with Agrana in this market. Leveraging the technology developed by our subsidiary company, Amalgamated Research LLC, is an important strategic initiative for our future.”
Amalgamated Sugar Communications Specialist Jessica McAnally said the research subsidiary developed the technology to separate betaine from sugar beet molasses, and is one of two companies in the world that can separate and crystallize betaine. Amalgamated Sugar produces liquid betaine at its plants in Twin Falls and Nampa, Idaho. The company produces crystalline betaine in Nampa.
“This allows us to expand into different markets,” she said. “We are hoping to expand in the feed market and also possibly the cosmetics market.” She expects the new joint venture to “positively affect the payments we are able to provide our grower-owners.”
Amalgamated Sugar parent cooperative Snake River Sugar Co.’s more than 750 members grow sugar beets on more than 180,000 acres in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Amalgamated said it is the second-largest producer of sugar from beets in the U.S. Sugar prices remain at 1980s levels, the American Sugar Alliance reported.
Agrana converts agricultural raw materials into food and other products. The company employs about 8,700 people at 59 sites around the world.
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December 20, 2018 at 08:53AM
At first blush, the farm bill recently passed by Congress is being welcomed by sugar beet growers.
Most in agriculture are happy to have a new five-year ag policy framework they can work with, said local sugar beet company official Ric Rodriguez of Powell.
“We are just starting to hear from all the national farmer organizations, and the reactions I’ve heard are all positive,” said Rodriguez, vice chairman of the board of Western Sugar Cooperative, which operates in Wyoming and three other states.
The farm bill — approved overwhelmingly by both Houses of Congress — says all the right things as far as sugar beet growers are concerned, Rodriguez said.
But there is more to the equation: “The big concern is for the government to run the program correctly,” he noted.
The sugar program was left virtually untouched in the five-year reauthorization of the farm bill. It gives protection to sugar growers from the market being oversupplied by highly subsidized foreign sugar. That’s a monitoring function left to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“When they [the government] don’t control the imports as the law intended, we end up with an oversupplied market and lower prices,” Rodriguez explained.
Already a concern to sugar beet growers, he said, is the delay in the appointment of an undersecretary to run the program.
“We have been operating with a temporary person,” Rodriguez said, “because the appointment has been one of the many held up in Congress.”
The sugar program operates at no cost to the consumers, Rodriguez maintains. It offers low interest loans for sugar company borrowing, and is one of the only commodities to put money back into the U.S. Treasury from interest paid on the sugar loans.
Congressional delegation split on updated farm bill
The newly updated farm bill — which authorizes $867 billion worth of federal spending for agricultural programs and food assistance — drew mixed reviews from Wyoming’s Congressional delegation.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., voted for The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 last week, calling it a vote “to protect Wyoming ranchers.”
Cheney said the five-year reauthorization of the bill is “essential to the continuity of programs relied on by farmers and ranchers in Wyoming as they work every day to feed the nation.”
She said the bill will provide tools and resources to help farmers and ranchers deal with factors outside their control — including market volatility, poor weather and natural disasters.
Beyond that, she said the bill will encourage the development of more broadband access in rural areas, improve the management of public lands to prevent wildfires, maintain the sugar policies that Wyoming beet growers rely on, among other positive provisions.
However, Wyoming’s U.S. Senators — Republicans Mike Enzi and John Barrasso — both voted against the final version of the legislation; Enzi and Barrasso said they didn’t like the changes that were made after the bill passed the Senate last summer.
“While I’m pleased the 2018 farm bill included a number of good provisions for Wyoming agriculture producers, I believe it fell short in addressing some of the key challenges our western agriculture communities face,” Barrasso said in a statement. “It failed to include meaningful forest management provisions important for wildlife habitat and for ranchers who need healthy federal lands for grazing. In another year when Wyoming and other western states were impacted by catastrophic wildfires, effective forest management is more important than ever.”
Enzi said lawmakers weren’t given enough time to review the final language of the bill, which was a compromise between two different versions passed by the House and Senate last summer.
“The vote was held less than 24 hours after the [revised] text was released,” Enzi said in a statement. “That is why I voted against the final version. It is critical to review possible intended and unintended consequences of legislation before voting.”
“For example,” he said, “I have heard that the bill failed to address key concerns from ranchers over federal management provisions that affect grazing and wildlife habitat.”
While called the farm bill, the legislation includes funding for not only agricultural programs but also for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which used to be known as the Food Stamp Program. According to Barrasso, more than 75 percent of the $867 billion of federal money will go toward SNAP.
Some Republicans — particularly in the House — had fought to increase the work requirements for SNAP recipients.
“Under current law, able-bodied adults who do not have dependent children and are under the age of 50 must work for 20 hours a week or participate in job training to receive food aid under the program,” McClatchy Washington Bureau explained. “The original House Republican proposal expanded the work requirements to include people up to age 59 and parents of children over the age of 6. It also included proposals that would have made it harder for states to give exceptions to those rules.”
Cheney said the final bill does give President Donald Trump the ability to strengthen work requirements for SNAP, but the changes proposed by the House were mostly stripped from the final version that passed Congress. National pundits noted that Congressional Republicans lost some of their legislative bargaining power in November’s midterm elections, when Democrats won control of the House.
Barrasso said the final farm bill didn’t go far enough in addressing a number of expensive federal programs, including SNAP.
“I believe Congress missed a real opportunity to improve accountability, help those Americans most in need and protect taxpayer dollars for the next four years,” he said.
The final version of the act passed the U.S. House of Representatives 369-47 and the U.S. Senate 87-13, with Barrasso and Enzi among the 13 in opposition; the two Wyoming senators had voted for the version that passed the Senate last summer.
It is expected that President Donald Trump will sign the act into law soon.
“... It looks like the farm bill is in very, very good shape. So we’ll get the farm bill,” Trump said at Saturday evening’s Congressional Ball, according to a transcript of his remarks released by the White House. “Got to take care of the farmers.”
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December 20, 2018 at 08:52AM
Acres & Shares, LLC to specialize in land and beet stock sales.
Grand Forks, N.D. — December 10, 2018 — A seasoned land and beet stock specialist has launched a new company.
Jayson Menke, who started the company, says Acres & Shares, LLC’s niche market is farmland and American Crystal Sugar Company (ACSC) beet stock brokerage.
During the past 18 and a half years, Menke, who worked for Botsford Qualey Land Company and Farmers National Company, has become one of the most experienced land brokers in eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota.
“As a North Dakota farm kid, I am blessed to stay connected to agriculture and serve Minnesota and North Dakota landowners as a trusted advisor,” Menke says.
Previous to starting Acres & Shares, LLC, Menke was also the President and CEO of FNC Ag Stock, LLC and prior to that was the head of the Alerus Securities Ag Stock Division.
“Another of my work joys has been working with ACSC shareholders since 2003. Building trust. Renewing and creating friendships and business relationships,” Menke says.
“Starting this new business has been exciting. Some of the new ideas I’ll incorporate will enhance the customer service experience for landowners and ACSC shareholders alike.”
Acres & Shares is locally owned and headquartered in Grand Forks. For more information visit www.acresandshares.com or call Menke at (218) 779-1293.
FARGO — There were days in October when Tom Astrup didn’t know how the 2018 sugar beet harvest in the Red River Valley was going to end up. Unprecedented cold nights, rainy days and inches of snow were hurting the ability to get beets out of the field and could have ruined much of the crop.
“I can tell you, I was pessimistic,” Astrup, president and CEO of American Crystal Sugar, said during his speech Thursday, Dec. 6, to the Joint Annual Meeting of American Crystal Sugar Company and the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.
The next week’s weather was critical in getting out what Astrup called a “pretty darn good 2018 crop.” Still, the crop didn’t approach the two prior years’ crops, and 2,200 acres out of 390,000 planted didn’t get pulled out of the ground.
“It’s painful for those who had to leave them behind,” he said.
Yields for 2018 were 28.9 tons per acre, compared to 30.2 tons per acre in 2017, which was second only to 2016’s record crop. Sugar content for 2018 is expected to be 18.14 percent, comparable both to 2017 and the historical average.
Astrup explained that the sugar content and yield were lower than looked possible during the summer. But a cool September, along with the stress of the October cold, rain and snow, seem likely to have capped the beets’ potential. Astrup said really cold weather now, which would allow the beets to freeze and keep the company processing into May, would help the prospects.
Matt Wineinger, president of United Sugars Corp., spoke about what his company does, explaining that United Sugars’ purpose is to “Sell it high! Sell it all!” American Crystal Sugar is one of four companies that work with United Sugars Corp. to sell sugar.
Wineinger showed a heat map of where United Sugars’ products go, with a oval stretching across much of the Midwest and into Florida. Chicago is the main focus, Wineinger said, explaining that the company’s “sugar dome” in the Windy City plays a part in that. Chicago, he said, is the top metropolitan sugar market, and having a strong presence there is good for business.
Astrup, meeting later with media, concurred, saying it’s cost-effective to ship to Chicago.
“It’s just an arrangement our customers have found much to their liking.”
Astrup also touched briefly on the new Big Sky Sugar Cooperative that have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to purchase American Crystal Sugar’s Sidney, Mont., processing facility. While negotiations have a long way to go, Astrup said he is hoping the deal can be closed before spring planting.
Astrup said the growers in Sidney have not been part of American Crystal Sugar and have instead been contract growers who negotiate prices with the cooperative. Forming their own cooperative and owning the Sidney facility would be a positive step for growers there and for the community of Sidney, Asrup said.
“It’s a good plant,” he said. “I think it’s got a great future.”
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December 7, 2018 at 09:19AM