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Published March 12, 2012, 11:03 AM

Sugarbeet Institute hits 50

Much has changed in the Red River Valley’s sugar beet industry over the past 50 years. One of the constants is the International Sugarbeet Institute, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Much has changed in the Red River Valley’s sugar beet industry over the past 50 years. One of the constants is the International Sugarbeet Institute, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month.

The annual event will be held March 14 and 15 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. The Red River Valley is the nation’s leading sugar beet growing region, and the Institute is billed as the nation’s largest sugar beet trade show. An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people will attend.

Allan Cattanach, general agronomist for American Crystal Sugar Co., in Moorhead, Minn., has been involved with the Institute since 1975. In that time, the area’s sugar beet industry has seen many changes, and the Institute reflects that.

“Mechanization is a huge factor,” he says. Once, beets were hoed by hand. Today, beet farmers use big equipment and technology to keep weeds in check.

Another change is the “size and scope of operations,” he says. American Crystal once had about 2,500 grower-members but now has about 750.

Fewer companies manufacture sugar beet equipment today, which means fewer exhibits. However, the size and cost of equipment has soared.

This year, more than $4.5 million of products from 125 companies will be displayed in more than 100,000 square feet.

Origin in Crookston, Minn.

The event began in 1963 as a special seminar in the Red River Valley Winter Shows Arena in Crookston, Minn. It later became a two-day trade show and educational seminar, according to information from the Institute.

The original name was the Sugar Beet Grower’s Seminar, but the event later adopted its current name. The “International” was added in 1980, when Manitoba sugar growers joined in.

The Institute continues to attract international visitors, as well as attendees from across the country, although most of the people who attend are from the Upper Midwest, Cattanach says.

The Institute was held for many years at the Crookston arena. The adjacent Crookston National Guard Armory was used for the educational/information seminar held concurrently with the trade show.

In 1994, the event was held at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D. In 2002, it was held at the Alerus Center. The Institute now alternates between the Fargodome and the Alerus Center.

Leaving Crookston was difficult because some supporters of the Institute liked holding it in a relatively small community, Cattanach says. Crookston, in northwestern Minnesota, has about 8,000 residents.

But both the Fargodome and the Alerus Center are popular places to hold the Institute, Cattanach says.

Many top U.S. political leaders have attended the event through the years. The list includes Tom Foley, a former Washington congressman who served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to information from the Institute.

This year’s event

This year, the doors open at 9 a.m. on both days. Most of both days are devoted primarily to viewing exhibits, although each day will feature a speaker.

At 1:15 p.m. March 14, Owen Wagner will speak on “NAFTA Sugar Markets: Status and Outlook.” Wagner is the senior economist, North America, for LMC, an agricultural consulting company.

At 10:10 a.m. March 15, Leon Osborne will speak on “Weather and Climate Trends and Patterns, 2012.” He’s president of Meridian Environmental Technology in Grand Forks.

Doors close at 5 p.m. March 14 and mid-afternoon on March 15.

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