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Published December 14, 2010, 09:14 AM

Minn-Dak has huge year in beets

FARGO, N.D. — Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative will process a third more tons of beets from its 2010 crop, boosting payments to an estimated $180 million, up from payments of about $100 million in the past two years, officials say.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative will process a third more tons of beets from its 2010 crop, boosting payments to an estimated $180 million, up from payments of about $100 million in the past two years, officials say.

The Wahpeton, N.D.-based co-op, which held its annual meeting Dec. 7, will pay out an estimated $56.85 per ton of beets, up about $10 a ton from last year. One key has been excellent sugar prices, and another is getting the plant to full capacity.

Doug Etten, the co-op’s board chairman, says the crop and revenues will provide the co-op with a record year for capital projects, other than expansion years. The co-op is working on improving its storage capacity, mud handling and processing. The co-op typically spends about $6 million, where this year’s improvements are budgeted at $19 million. He says the co-op for the first time in several years will withhold unit retains as a way to finance some of the improvements.

Political shifts

As the Republicans take the reins of the House of Representatives, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will become chairman and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., will become ranking minority member.

Peterson, who spoke to the organization via video recording, says Lucas and he seem to agree on most things, but that Lucas is planning to delay writing the new farm bill until the 2012 expiration of the current one. Peterson already had held hearings on the bill and hoped to get a new multiyear bill passed in 2011. Peterson says Lucas has assured him that whatever Peterson “says in sugar is going to be what we’re going to do.”

In the U.S. Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., likely is to become chairwoman.

“The good news is she’s from Michigan and has is very supportive and knowledgeable about sugar,” Peterson says.

He says the ranking minority member may shift from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-S.C., to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

If a bill can’t be done in 2012, Peterson says he’d consider an extension on the current bill — “not a bad outcome, especially for sugar.”

He says preserving the sugar program is his “No. 1 priority going forward.”

“I think sugar should be in the most envious position of commodity in the next farm bill,” Peterson says. “You’ve got a program that’s working very well, being administered very well by USDA. Really, you’re out of the target we have been so many years in the past. Your program doesn’t cost any money. That’s going to be the big pressure in the farm bill, finding enough money to make all of this work.”

GM beet issue

Peterson took a shot at the U.S. fed-eral court that has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture improperly allowed deregulation that allowed the planting of Roundup Ready sugar beets.

Peterson says some recent rulings by the judge are “ridiculous.”

“Hopefully we can talk some sense into this judge; you can never talk sense but talk sense into these environmental folks,” he says.

He says he’ll work with Republican counterparts to “rein in the EPA and some of these other agencies that have gotten completely out of control and have gotten off on ideology that is just causing a lot of problems and is not realistic in the real world, in agriculture.”

In the last year, Peterson has come to the notion of “cutting their budget in half,” and that would “maybe focus them on what they should be looking at, and not regulating (farm) dust and all of this other stuff.”

David Roche, Minn-Dak president and chief executive officer, notes there has been a favorable ruling on stecklings. A federal judge had ordered stecklings — carrot-sized beets for seed — to be destroyed because they were planted without being approved for commercial seed planting in 2012. On the night of Dec. 6, however, Roche says the courts agreed to an emergency stay, meaning those can be left in the ground for now, and the issue more fully resolved by Dec. 23.

“They don’t have to take them out of the ground, pending this appeal,” Roche says.

The beets at issue represented about 200 acres of about 1,000 acres, to produce seed for the 2012 crop.

Red River Valley farmers have had “a lot” of comments filed on the issue, Roche says. He hopes USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service will issue a partial deregulation or some conditional permits to plant in 2011.

Etten says co-op shareholders are optimistic but realize the Roundup Ready issue will be a long process.

“It’s just frustrating at times because you can’t do anything about it,” he says.