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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published March 11 2013

Annual International Sugarbeet Institute this week

FARGO – Sugar beets are an agricultural cornerstone of the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Montana.

It’s no coincidence that the International Sugarbeet Institute, billed as North America’s largest sugar beet trade show, is held each year in the heart of the Red River Valley.

“We aren’t real heavy on program,” says Don Lilleboe, one of the event’s organizers. “We have a keynote speaker every day (and) those are well attended, but our emphasis is really on providing a venue for companies in the sugar beet sector to talk with farmers.”

“It’s just a good venue for people to come together and get an update on what’s hot, what’s new,” he says.

This year’s event, the 51st, will be Wednesday and Thursday at the Fargodome. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people will attend the free event. At least 125 companies will display roughly $5 million of products and equipment, including self-propelled beet harvesters.

Every exhibitor will have a connection to the sugar beet industry. The event opens at 9 a.m. both days.

Keynote speakers

At 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Luther Markwart will speak on the sugar industry’s challenges and opportunities this year. He’s executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

At 10:10 a.m. Thursday, Howard Dahl will speak on what the sugar beet industry will be like in five years.

He’s president and CEO of Fargo-based Amity Technology, which produces sugar beet equipment. It’s also involved in seeding, tillage and soil sampling equipment.

Harvesters to check out

Several self-propelled beet harvesters will be exhibited at the event, says Bob Cournia, exhibit coordinator for the show.

A self-propelled harvester increases efficiency by eliminating the need for a tractor and reducing the amount of manpower required in fields, he says.

The exhibits will feature a number of new products, especially ones using advanced technology.

“If you stand still, you don’t go anywhere,” Cournia says.

Overall, the Red River Valley enjoyed a good sugar beet harvest in 2012.

On the downside, poor harvest conditions caused big problems for some growers in the northern Red River Valley, he says.

“Sugar beets are harvested across a big area is the valley,” so it’s not uncommon for unfavorable weather to hurt at least some producers, he says.