FARGO, N.D. — The atmosphere at the joint annual meeting of American Crystal Sugar Co. and the Red River Valley Sugar Beet Growers Association was festive as the company celebrated a record 2023 crop and 50th anniversary.
About 1,200 farmers and members of the American Crystal Sugar executive team gathered at the Holiday Inn in Fargo on Dec. 7 for the meeting, which featured speakers who talked about the success of the company that growers purchased in 1973.
American Crystal Sugar, which is owned by about 2,400 farmers, has factories in the Minnesota cities of Crookston, East Grand Forks and Moorhead, where it is based, and in the North Dakota towns of Hillsboro and Drayton.
About 1,000 Red River Valley sugarbeet growers purchased American Crystal Sugar, which was previously a privately owned company, in February 1973 for $86 million and immediately began making improvements in infrastructure and management.
The farmers’ purchase was questioned by some in the private sector who wondered, “What do a bunch of farmers know about running a sugar company?” and “Why would you want to pay for a contract that was free?” said Tom Astrup, American Crystal Sugar president and CEO.
Fifty years later, the cooperative has grown to 2,800 farmer-shareholders who produced back-to-back record crops in 2022 and 2023.
The company’s farmers this year
of 31.9 tons per acre — 1.5 tons per acre more than the previous record of 30.4 tons set in 2016. Total tonnage this year was 12.7 million, 300 tons higher than last year when the previous total tonnage record was set.
The bumper 2023 crop also came with a
. Farmers net payment for the 2022 crop was $70.62 per ton. The net payments reflect the amount farmers receive for their crop after unit retain and freight charges are extracted, which the company believes is a more accurate reflection of the amount farmers receive than the gross payment, which American Crystal previously reported.
The mood at the annual meeting was celebratory as members of the company’s executive team, farmers and former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp lauded the success of American Crystal Sugar during their speeches.
A common term in the business world is “proof of concept,” which demonstrates that the product or concept will fulfill customer requirements at the same time it provides a compelling business case for adoption, Heitkamp said.
American Crystal Sugar, which was formed at a time when it was uncommon for farmers to own value-added businesses, paved the way for other cooperatives such as ethanol and pasta, and achieved proof of concept, she said.
The success of the company should not be taken for granted, but instead noted and celebrated, Heitkamp said.
“Just be really proud, be really excited about sharing this legacy,” she said.
However, though Heitkamp and all of the other speakers were enthusiastic about the company’s success during the past 50 years, they also interjected a note of caution that it shouldn’t be complacent and must keep moving forward.
American Crystal Sugar must continue to develop its production practices ,embrace new technology and communicate with members of the U.S. Congress, especially about their priorities for the new farm bill, speakers said.
Like running a marathon, stakeholders in the sugar industry must never stop moving forward, said Neil Rockstad, outgoing Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association president.
“There’s not a finish line anywhere in sight,” Rockstad said. “Our cooperative will realize a long and prosperous future.”
Brent Baldwin, a St. Thomas, North Dakota, sugarbeet farmer, is the new president of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association. He is a fourth generation sugarbeet farmer.
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: email@example.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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