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Jonathan Knutson, Forum Communications Co., Published March 15 2012

Beating drums for beets

GRAND FORKS – The International Sugarbeet Institute celebrated its 50th anniversary with beautiful spring weather and optimism that the best is yet to come for the Red River Valley’s sugar beet industry.

“This is a very vibrant industry,” said Mohamed Khan, extension sugar beet specialist for North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.

The region produces 60 percent of U.S. sugar beets and someday “can produce more than 60 percent,” he said.

Khan was one of the organizers of the institute, which concluded Thursday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. The institute is billed as the nation’s largest sugar beet trade show; an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people attended over the two days.

The show began in 1963 in Crookston and now alternates annually between the Alerus Center and the Fargodome.

More than $4.5 million worth of products from 125 companies were on display at the Alerus Center. Through the years, equipment at the show consistently has become bigger and more sophisticated.

“I’ve stopped saying it (the equipment) can’t be any bigger,” said Nick Sinner, executive director of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.

Area sugar beet growers, like other farmers and agribusiness people, are watching work on the new U.S. farm bill, the federal government’s main food and agricultural policy tool. The existing farm bill expires at the end of the year and needs to be renewed.

Sinner said he and other members of his group were in Washington recently and were pleased to find bipartisan support for a new farm bill.

“There’s gridlock on a lot of things, but this (the farm bill) is something they can work on and make progress,” he said.

Sinner said “there’s nothing new” on the lockout of union members by Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co. in a labor dispute.

The Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, whose members supply beets to American Crystal, continues to hope that the dispute will be resolved, Sinner said

The mild winter and spring are appreciated by the region’s sugar beet industry, said Mike Sauer, of Wahpeton-based Allied Beet Service.

Optimism going into this spring is about as high as he can remember, Sauer said.

Jonathan Knutson writes for AgWeek.

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