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Cindy Pulskamp, of Hillsboro, N.D., made history when she was elected as one of 15 board members for American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-based cooperative based in Moorhead, Minn. Photo courtesy of American Crystal Sugar Co. (Forum News Service/Agweek)

Crystal piles record-high tons

MOORHEAD, Minn. — American Crystal Sugar Co. is projecting a stronger initial payment for the 2017 crop than they made last year and made a bit of history by electing their first female factory district board member, officials say.

Robert Green, a St. Thomas, N.D., farmer and chairman of the 15-member board for the past six years, attended his last factory district meeting on Nov. 8 in Moorhead, Minn., in advance of the annual meeting on Dec. 7. Green served the maximum of four consecutive three-year terms on the board.

The chairman declined to confirm figures from a shareholder letter obtained by Agweek. Those figures say the company's first projecting $46 per ton for the 2017 crop, minus $4 per ton for unit retains.

On Sept. 18, posted its first sale of 65 shares of American Crystal Sugar sold at $2,725 per share, with standing orders to buy shares at $2,700. Shares were sold at $2,700 on Oct. 3; $2,750 on Oct. 30; and then increased to $2,800 to $2,900 per share soon after the sugar beet payment forecast.

12M tons

Green would only say the first estimates are preliminary.

"It's a good crop, a sweeter crop, but there is a lot of risk," he says. "I have been quick to tell my neighbors and shareholders that when you take in a 12-million-ton crop, you're trading one risk for another. We are very hopeful for a long, cold winter" so beets will stay frozen and can be processed properly.

The co-op board chose not to leave any beets in the field unharvested. He says the crop won't be a record yield, but a record for "total tons" because of the low rate of discarded beets or abandoned because of disease.

The same letter says the 2016 crop payment came out at $42.45 per ton. The final payment figure is up from the $38 initially projected last November. The 2016 crop had lower sugar content and a tough harvest in the northern Red River Valley, followed by a record warm period in November 2016.

"I think we were very lucky to get what we did out that 2016 crop," Green says.

The final payment for 2015 beets was $49.77 per ton.

First woman

Green noted that Cindy Pulskamp of Hillsboro, N.D., was elected as one of three directors to represent the Hillsboro factory district. Other new board members are Mark Nelson, Grand Forks, N.D., for the East Grand Forks, Minn., district; and Ernie Dusek of Grafton, N.D., for the Drayton, N.D., factory district. Three members were termed-out.

Pulskamp, 51, is one of the few board members of farmer-owned processing cooperatives. Co-op business management has seen more females ascending to prominent posts, but the owner-board has traditionally been held by men.

"I've known Cindy for years and know she is very qualified," Green says. He says the gender milestone may be significant but will ultimately "bring something different to the table," and he predicted she will, too.

Green says there were good candidates for all races in all five factory districts. He noted that he's known Pulskamp, a former board member of the Red River Sugarbeet Growers Association, and says she'll bring strong experience and perspective to the board.

Green says he's happy to be leaving Crystal leadership while the co-op is on a "good path" for

the future.

Kevin Price, who heads Crystal's government affairs in Washington, D.C., called the election of a female board member a "great development" and one not common in the an industry that is "fairly male dominated."

Maxing out

Green's chairmanship has included changeovers in management and working through labor contracts and disputes, but Green says the most significant change has been the technology.

He noted that farmers once thought acceptable yields were in the 18-ton per acre range, while yields have topped 30 tons per acre for the past two years.

American Crystal once had a goal of farmers producing 6,100 pounds of recoverable sugar per acre, but now the average is over 10,300 pounds of sugar per acre.

"That's how good this industry has been," Green says.

He says if his wheat yields had increased the same amount he'd be growing 120-bushel-per-acre crops.