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Published March 10, 2014, 09:40 AM

Sugar beet show goes on

A key figure at the nation’s biggest indoor sugar beet show is gone, but the event goes on.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

A key figure at the nation’s biggest indoor sugar beet show is gone, but the event goes on.

The 52nd annual International Sugarbeet Institute will be held March 12 and 13 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. Doors open at 8:45 a.m. both days. They close at 5 p.m. March 12 and mid-afternoon March 13. A free breakfast will be offered from 8:45 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. March 13.

Bob Cournia, the Institute’s longtime exhibit coordinator, died in a traffic accident Nov. 7. Cournia, 67, was a lifetime farmer in Crookston, Minn., where the event first began.

“He was active for many years as the coordinator. He worked very closely with all the exhibitors,” says Mohamed Khan, extension sugar beet specialist for North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota and chairman of the International Sugarbeet Institute.

Khan, who was involved with the exhibits in prior years, has succeeded Cournia as exhibits coordinator.

Cournia will be honored posthumously in a ceremony at 10 a.m. March 12.

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 this year, and about 125 companies will exhibit their products. Every exhibit will have a connection to the sugar beet industry.

Products on exhibits will have a combined value of about $5 billion, Khan says.

Low sugar prices have hurt the industry’s profitability during the past year, but exhibitor interest in the Institute remains strong, Khan says.

The list of 2014 exhibits includes a new defoliator from Fargo, N.D.-based Amity Technology and a harvester/defoliator from Ropa, a European company.

Two speakers

Although the event is built around exhibits, both days will feature a speaker.

At 1:15 p.m. March 12, Tom Peters, University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University Extension sugarbeet agronomist and weed specialist, will speak on “I Have an Idea: Let’s Develop a New Biotech Trait.” He recently retired from Monsanto after nearly 24 years with company, working in biotechnology and the development of new traits products.

Peters will speak on some of the principles of biotech development, Khan says.

At 10:25 a.m. March 13, Gene Taylor will speak on “Going the Extra Mile — In Athletics and Agriculture.” Taylor is athletic director at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Names, locations

The Institute has gone through a number of changes through the years, according to organizers.

It 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.

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.

The event 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.

Crookston, in northwestern Minnesota, has about 8,000 residents, and some supporters of the Institute liked holding the event in a relatively small community. But organizers decided it should move to larger facilities.

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