The annual American Sugarbeet Growers Association meeting was scheduled to be held in Austin, Texas, this year, but due to COVID-19 concerns, the association was forced to holds its annual meeting virtually.
An estimated audience of over 650 viewed the meeting — double the average attendance for the in-person meeting.
“In terms of attendance, it was a huge success,” said ASGA executive vice president Luther Markwart.
“The virtual meeting provided great opportunities to pull in speakers that typically would not be able to attend our meeting. We had top legislators and foreign presenters and we made it easy for them to talk to our growers,” he continued. “Our program provided the top people on the key and diverse topics that are critically important to growers.”
While Markwart and his ASGA staff are veterans when it comes to organizing the annual meeting, unique challenges presented themselves in setting up this year’s event.
“There is a tremendous amount of work to help make sure the presentations are structured properly, address growers’ interests and concerns, fit within very tight time schedules and work with various levels of technology. In reality, virtual meetings are harder to do even when you have outstanding technical teams that produce the event,” Markwart said. “Our goal was to take the disappointment of not being able to meet in person and turn it into an opportunity to expand both our audience and speaker base to make it a success of historical proportions. We absolutely achieved both of those objectives. However, half the value of in-person meetings is the informal discussions that go on in the hallways, over meals or events. Those micro conversations between individuals are the glue that binds people together and makes any organization stronger. We can’t wait to get back together again.”
Former U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who chaired the House Agriculture Committee, kicked off the event as the first speaker. Peterson warned potential environmental regulations could affect much of the ag sector.
“I think the (Biden) administration is going to be pushing climate change,” Peterson said. “I don’t know what argument we make for the sugar industry on how it helps with climate change, but that's going to be an important aspect.”
Peterson also said another issue to look out for is a possible push for payment limitations on crops. Overall, however, his outlook was positive.
“I’m glad we’ve got a good program for sugar. My attitude would be, keep what we’ve got. And don’t let them undermine you,” he said.
Hallock, Minn.’s Dan Younggren, ASGA president, closed the meeting by summarizing the past year’s events and outlining what lies ahead for the sugarbeet industry for the upcoming year. Younggren detailed the industry’s most important challenges, including the ongoing pandemic, the new Congress with dozens of new members and new congressional staff, new agriculture leaders in Congress and the new administration.
“We have our work cut out for us,” he said. “We don’t expect more, but when it comes to our sugar program, we can’t accept less,” he said.