McGinnis Institute of Beet Sugar Technology celebrates 50 years of educating the beet sugar industry
Dr. Richard A. McGinnis and his friend James H. Fischer wanted to create a school to teach the fundamentals of sugarbeet factory equipment, processes and operations, as well as the latest technology and scientific knowledge. Their idea now is in its 50th year of educating students on sugarbeet processing.
Every summer, students attending the annual McGinnis Institute of Beet Sugar Technology Beet End and Sugar End schools learn about a wide variety of topics from pulp pressing and drying to lime and carbon dioxide production. Both schools consist of an intense two weeks of lectures and daily testing, and for the past two years have wrapped up with a project called “Future Factory.”
The students, which include beet sugar company employees and other sugarbeet technologists, team up to explore ideas learned in class and from various sugar beet growing regions of the U.S. They use this information to create an ideal “future factory” that utilizes the newest technology available. The projects are then presented to the class and a panel of judges and become part of the collective knowledge of the American sugarbeet industry.
The “Future Factory” concept embodies the unique vision of the late Dr. Richard A. McGinnis and his friend James H. Fischer. McGinnis was a chemist for Spreckels Sugar in San Francisco, California, and Fischer was a mechanical engineer and research manager for the Beet Sugar Development Foundation in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The two friends wanted to create a school to teach the fundamentals of sugarbeet factory equipment, processes and operations, as well as the latest technology and scientific knowledge. The curriculum would be designed to provide greater potential for students’ employability and career advancement in the American sugarbeet industry. McGinnis and Fischer made their dream a reality, and this summer the MIBST Beet End and Sugar End schools celebrate their 50th anniversary.
It all began with the Beet Sugar Development Foundation, which was established on July 17, 1945. The purpose of the BDSF is to advance beet sugar production through research, education and partnership, and membership consists of beet sugar processing and sugarbeet seed companies.
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In 1951, McGinnis published an internationally acclaimed book called “Beet Sugar Technology.” The BSDF hired him to revise the first edition in 1960 and the second edition came out in 1971. McGinnis, Fischer and the BSDF decided to use the second edition as the text for a two-week short course on Beet End operations, or “pile to thin juice.” The course was officially launched on July 23, 1972. That same year, McGinnis and Fischer founded the Beet Sugar Institute in Fort Collins, Colorado. The institute was sponsored by the BSDF and taught beet sugar technology in two ways: Beet End and Sugar End.
In 1973, another two-week short course was added that focused on Sugar End operations, such as evaporation to production, storage and sugar packaging. The Beet Sugar Institute was later named the McGinnis Institute of Beet Sugar Technology to honor Dr. McGinnis. By 1996, more than 1,800 students had attended the MIBST schools on the Colorado State University campus and more than 2,700 courses were taken.
The two-week Beet End and Sugar End schools, now held in Denver, Colorado, are going strong as they enter their 50th year.
“The schools have helped the American sugarbeet industry by providing technical education on beet sugar processing to the next generation of colleagues in the industry,” said Anna Murphy, executive vice president of the BSDF and the American Society of Sugarbeet Technologists. “This is also a great opportunity for networking across the industry. Some students were so positively impacted by the schools that they have become MIBST instructors.”
There are no higher educational requirements to attend the MIBST schools, and students are recommended, sponsored and enrolled by regular or associate member companies of the BSDF. The BSDF staff oversee and support the MIBST, and student registration fees cover the cost of the schools.
Erin Stojanowski, quality assurance and compliance manager for Midwest Agri, was a student in the 2022 Beet End school. Midwest Agri, based in San Rafael, California, is a marketer of sugarbeet products including beet pulp pellets and shreds, beet molasses and betaine.
“Beet End school advanced my knowledge of the pulp processing path and potential hazards that should be included for a hazard analysis,” said Stojanowski, who lives in Croswell, Michigan. “It was also great to learn the operating parameters for the different processing steps on the beet side of the factory.”
MIBST beet school instructors are experts in multiple aspects of beet sugar processing, and include current industry employees, consultants and retirees who want to give back. The instructors learn just as much from the students, according to consulting engineer Scott Kahre of Farmington, Arkansas.
Kahre, who teaches a course called “Diffusion Fundamentals and Practices,” said the interaction is one of the best parts of the school.
“I’ve learned something new from the students almost every year I’ve taught. There’s such a wide range of experience in the room. In many cases, the students are fully aware of what happens in a sugar factory and we simply facilitate their understanding of why it happens,” he said. “I think the schools’ greatest value to the industry is gained as an avenue for the cooperatives to invest in their factory staff. When I first started in the industry, I remember how some of the operations folks I worked with would speak with so much pride about what they had learned at the sugar schools. They knew the company believed in them, and they were empowered with the knowledge they gained to believe in themselves.”
William Gough, MIBST processing school director and alum, vividly remembers his first trip to Colorado to attend Beet End school.
“Back in 2003, shortly after I accepted a position as factory manager in Michigan, I was asked to attend the MIBST sugar processing school in Fort Collins. At that time, it was held on the CSU campus,” said Gough. “I found out from former students that I would be housed in the student dorms. Everyone commented on how unbearably hot it was in the dorms because there was no air conditioning.”
After registering and locating his room, the first thing Gough did was head to the local Walmart and buy a fan.
“As luck would have it, temperatures never got much above 70 degrees the whole two weeks I was there, and it rained almost the entire time,” he said. “It was so cool outside I had to purchase a nice green CSU jacket to wear to and from class. I still have that little fan and CSU jacket to remind me of my first visit to Colorado. The fan still works and the jacket still fits.”
In addition to relocating to Denver, there were other changes as the MIBST schools evolved over the years. A third edition of “Beet Sugar Technology” was published in 1982. In 1987, McGinnis stepped down as MIBST administrator and there were very few copies left of the third edition by then. The third edition was revised with assistance from European counterparts and called “Sugar Technology.”
In 1992, an Ag school was added to the MIBST suite of educational programs, and it teaches students about physiology, weeds, pathology and sugarbeet harvesting and storage. The American sugarbeet cooperatives take turns hosting the Ag school, and this year’s event will be hosted by Western Sugar in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. This summer also marks the 30th anniversary of the MIBST Ag school.
McGinnis and Fischer were writers, educators and innovators who received many accolades for their lasting contributions to the American sugarbeet industry. Both men were named “Sugar Man of the Year” in the 1980s and were recipients of the prestigious Savitsky award. However, their greatest contribution and legacy was visualizing and facilitating a way to ensure the success of the “Future Factories.”
As the MIBST and BSDF celebrate and reflect on the past 50 years, they are also looking forward to meeting future challenges and continuing the legacy of McGinnis and Fischer.
“As BSDF executive vice president, I’m constantly asking how we can improve what we’re doing and make MIBST even better?” Murphy said. “There is a huge need for more people to go into the field of agriculture and develop skills to work in a factory as well. How can we reach more people through technology? Can we reinstate the maintenance school that was held in the past? The schools have been successfully running for 50 years and serving over 100 students annually. What do the next 50 years look like?”