FOUNTAIN HILLS, Arizona — James Julius Horvath, a former chief executive officer for American Crystal Sugar Co. who guided the company toward stability through difficult political and trade shifts, died Nov. 13, 2021, in his Arizona home.
He was 76.
Horvath’s visitation will be held 4-7 p.m., Nov. 18, at Messinger Fountain Hills Mortuary, near Scottsdale, Arizona. The funeral mass is set at Church of the Ascension, Fountain Hills, Arizona, at 11 a.m., on Nov. 19, 2021. He is survived by his wife, Carol Ann (nee Warren) Horvath, two sons and their families.
Horvath graduated from West Allis Central High School in 1963. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in 1967 and 1969, respectively. He and Carol married in 1968.
Colleagues remember Horvath as a thorough and intelligent leader who helped politically guide the industry toward sustainability. He helped hammer out recommendations to Congress that would cap U.S. production, but shared the market between beet and cane growers, allowing for political support that has lasted 20 years.
Horvath started his professional career in 1969 at Miller Brewing Company, where he headed treasury, corporate accounting and information technology functions.
In 1985, he was recruited by American Crystal as vice president of finance. Seven years later he was named chief operating officer for ProGold LLC, a corn sweetener refinery at Wahpeton, North Dakota. American Crystal partnered with Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, and Golden Growers Cooperative, of Fargo, a corn growers co-op. The ProGold facility worked, but competitors pushed prices down. The company has leased the facility to Cargill Inc. ever since, and it has remained a significant corn market in the region.
In 1996, Horvath moved back to American Crystal where he became chief financial officer. Also in 1996, Congress passed the Freedom to Farm farm bill that was designed to be the last farm bill, followed by disastrous price collapses.
In 1998, Crystal named Horvath chief executive officer. In 2002, Horvath had a strong hand in the reinstating the market allotment system that limited sugar production and stabilized U.S. production, which would prevent forfeiting sugar to the government.
In 2005, Horvath helped lead the industry through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement.
“He was a domestic leader, but an international leader, with outreach to the Mexican government and our government to make NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement, with Mexico added) work for sugar,” said Kevin Price, Crystal’s vice president for government affairs.
Some of those concepts had to be reinforced through lawsuits after he retired in 2007.
An industry ‘giant’
Tom Astrup, current American Crystal president and CEO, fondly recalled Horvath as a man who brought “business discipline” to the company’s way of setting goals and doing things in an "objective, measurable way.”
David Berg, who succeeded Horvath as CEO, said Horvath helped make agreements between beet and cane industries, but then moved to allow American Crystal to expand its allocation by purchasing facilities at Hereford, Texas (now closed); Torrington, Wyoming (now leased out) and Sidney, Montana (maintained as a wholly-owned subsidiary). Horvath simply took the time to calmly, constructively work through difficult issues, no matter how contentious, Berg said, but then he also was decisive.
Nationally, Horvath held numerous industry posts, including chairing the Sugar Association, serving as a trustee of the U.S. Beet Sugar Association, and being a member of the Agricultural Advisory Board of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank.
James W. Johnson, former president of the U.S. Beet Sugar Association, called Horvath a “giant” in the industry and said the recommendations he worked toward were a “key pillar” for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s administration of sugar policy “at no cost to taxpayers,” while maintaining an effective “safety net” for the nation’s sugar growers.
“Everything he achieved came down to the fact that he was a man of his word,” Johnson said.
His obituary said Horvath was “thankful for the endearing and productive working relationships and friendships he had with the farmer-owners of American Crystal, the other officers and employees as well as the dedicated people in the sugar industry" with whom he worked.