Beet Institute shifts from politics to agronomics, herbicide resistance

The 2014 version of the International Sugarbeet Institute event is March 12-13, rotating north to the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D.

With the farm bill passed, this year’s keynoter at the institute shifts to agronomy and sports. The main agricultural keynoter is Tom Peters, the newly named North Dakota State University/University of Minnesota Extension sugarbeet agronomist and weed specialist. Peters will talk about developing new biotech traits.

It’s interesting that Peters retired from Monsanto after 24 years. Peters holds a doctorate from North Dakota State University in agronomy and a sugar beet weed specialty.

Peters replaces the sometimes controversial Jeff Stachler, who left for a private industry post in March 2013 after serving in the post since 2008. Stachler had been a prophet in raising the warnings about herbicide resistance in weeds, a problem that particularly involves glyphosate (Roundup) resistance. Stachler raised eyebrows when he suggested farmers needed to be more agressive about roguing sugar beet fields by hand, eliminating weed infestations entirely.

 I can’t wait  to see what a former Monsanto staffer brings to this issue.  

There will still be some discussion about politics. Luther Markwart, executive vice president, who keynoted last year’s show, recently summarized several priorities for the organization:

  • Solving the recent market collapse, and balancing the market with Mexico.
  • Defending the just-passed farm bill – “a constant job.”
  • Studying future trade agreements and potential future negotiation rounds for the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation in Singapore.
  • Food labeling. The ASGA is one of 30 member groups in a Coalition for Affordable Foods which is seeking “consistency and rationality in our food labeling system,” Markwart says.

Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, spoke in March 2013 International Sugarbeet Institute in Fargo. Politics won’t be on the program this year.




Milkhaus ice cream biz gets Plains Museum lift


FARGO, N.D.  — Seth Locken, 24, one of North Dakota’s newest ag-related entrepreneurs, says a recent Plains Art Museum “Unglued Craft Fest” last Feb. 21 and 22 in Fargo was another affirmation of the possibilities of his homemade ice cream business.

Locken, whose main job is in accounts payable for Northrup Grumman Corp. manufacturing center  in New Town, N.D., grew up on his parents’ beef cattle ranch.  He went to North Dakota State University for two years and did some restaurant wait-staff work before he started his job last August.  About the same time he started working on the ice cream idea, making treats in a commercial kitchen at the back of Ken Beck’s Jack & Jill grocery store at New Town.

The first products went on the shelf on Dec. 16. He sells it from two grocery stores in New Town, and he’s working to get it into a food cooperative in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

“Everybody wants it now,”  says Locken, whose business card describes him as the proprieter and“glacier”  – a person that cares for the “very cold” products in the French “bragide de quisine,” a formal hierarchy for large French kitchen staffs.

 “I brought 1,000 units of ice cream to the museum and left with zero,” Locken says of his Fargo work. He and a colleague sold “push pop” treats for $3 each.  Pints went for $8. He served salted caramel, white chocolate, Fargo Brewing Company porter, curried squash and dark roast coffee ice cream. None were new flavors, but he’ll be rolling out some new ones in May.

“It was so cool,” Locken says, of the event. “I had a couple of gals come up to me and say that I haven’t had ice cream like that since I went to college in Massachusetts.”

Anderson Seed victim ponders whether to”take my whipping” and walk


One of the farmer-creditors in the Anderson Seed Co. insolvency says he’s resigned to a settlement recommendation by the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which was approved by a Cass County District Judge in Fargo, N.D. on Feb. 25.

Judge Wickham Corwin agreed to allow an 80 percent payout on $800,000 of credit sales contracts, and a further payout on the cash sales, which total $970,000. He also agreed with a settlement with Legumex Walker of Winnipeg that contributed $630,000 to the trust fund for cash contracts. Much of that was money that was unpaid to Anderson Seed in a $1.6 million seed purchase, just prior to insolvency.

“In all honesty, I’m glad it’s moving forward,” says Kevin Kessel of Belfield, N.D.  “I knew the judge was going to decide with the PSC recommendation.” But he says if the PSC are the experts he thinks there might have been some way they could have “caught it” before Anderson Seed, based in Mentor, Minn., went insolvent in February 2012.

Kessel scoffed at the statements lawyers that the 43 cents on a dollar is an acceptable outcome. “Are they willing to accept 43 cents on a dollar for their salary next year?” he says.

He says he’s also displeased that the PSC didn’t pursue Ron Anderson and Stephanie Anderson for fraud. “In all honesty, I feel they were able to get away with stealing the rest of our money,” he says.  Kessel says that if he had stolen someone’s money from their wallet, he’d be in court and in jail. “These guys did it (stole money) and they’re out roaming the countryside, doing what they need to do.”

Kessel says he has discussed the settlement with Mike Gust, a Fargo attorney representing several farmers in the case. He says he isn’t sure whether to go after the Andersons personally for the unpaid losses. “We, as a group, are going to visit again, but I can’t say yes or no,” he says. “Part of a guy says, let’s pursue this.  Another part of a guy says I’ll take my whipping and walk away.”

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Cornvention: ND’s E15 promo succeeded in Bismarck, challenges seen

Kent Satrang, chief executive officer of PetroServe USA, based in Moorhead, Minn., says his company’s promotion of E15 ethanol blends and other “mid-level” blends nearly tripled the sales of those products in Bismarck, N.D., in the last four months of 2013,  and more than doubled them in the Fargo area. Photo taken Feb. 19, 2014, at the Cornvention in Fargo.

See Agweek, Feb. 24, 2014, for details about the Cornvention, the North Dakota Soybean Expo, in Fargo, and the International Crops Expo (ICE) in Grand Forks, N.D.


Livestock Indemnity Program expedited, helps those hit by Oct. 4 storm

It’s in the farm bill, and now Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is among those trying to expedite Livestock Indemnity relief to ranchers hit by recent weather disasters, including the Oct. 4, 2013, blizzard.

To sign up for disaster relief, North Dakotans should contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency Office. Applications will begin being accepted in 60 days, and ranchers will need documentation of their losses.  For more information, visit here, Heitkamp notes.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, which was signed into law on Feb. 7. Heitkamp was one of those pushing to include a permanent livestock disaster program so that ranchers can survive catastrophic losses. In October 2013, winter storm Atlas, an unexpected early fall blizzard, killed more than 43,000 livestock in South Dakota alone (see Agweek, Feb. 7) , includingcattle, sheep, horses and bison in the Dakotas and Nebraska.   The disaster relief is backdated to October 2011, so North Dakota’s ranchers who experienced losses last year will be covered up to 75 percent, capped at $125,000 per individual and $250,000 per couple.


Goehring and the NDFB must be pondering primary, petition numbers



It will be interesting to see how Doug Goehring defends his North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner post in the face of opposition from the North Dakota Farm Bureau.

Goehring says he’ll run in the June primary, to become the Republican candidate.

But first he’ll  try to get the Republican party endorsement at the April convention.

If either Goehring or NDFB-backed challenger Judy Estenson of Warwick, N.D., fails to get party endorsement which runs April 5 to April 6 in Minot, N.D., either one could run in the primary as a second Republican on the ballot. They’d need to collect  300 signatures and turn them in to the Secretary of State’s office by 4 p.m. on April 7 to do that. (I’m thinking that if Estenson fails to secure the endorsement, the NDFB would make sure she is on the ballot in June.) Both parties may be pondering how to collect the 300 signatures as you read this.

Whoever loses the primary would be disqualified in the general election, unless they’re running for something else. You can’t be on  the same ballot in the election cycle for the same office, according to the North Dakota Secretary of State’s office

Of course there’s  an alternative.

If either candidate fails to get the party endorsement they could skip the primary election and go to the Nov. 4 general election – but only as an independent. This would require 1,000 signatures on a petition by Sept. 1, at 4 p.m.

Will that task may be a bit easier today than in the past, because of the uptick in the state’s population? Don’t count on it. 

National Potato Council exec calls farm bill a win for specialty crops


Here’s one of my “pole” pictures of a process potato harvest operation in 2012 near Kathryn, N.D. The Red River Valley is famous for tablestock, process, chip and seed potato industry.


National Potato Council Executive Vice president and chief executive officer John Keeling speaks at 9 a.m., Feb. 19, in  Grand Forks, N.D., for the International Ag Expo. Look for Agweek pre-stories in the Feb. 17 issue and for coverage in the Feb. 24 issue.

Keeling this week said the newly-passed  federal farm bill was a “tremendous victory for potato growers and our specialty crop partners.” It includes a 55 percent increase in new resources for the specialty crop priorities, making it “the most significant government investment ever in the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable industry.

  • · An increase to $80 million in annual mandatory funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which has provided funding for critical potato research, including zebra chip, acrylamide, and potato virus Y;
  • · An increase to $72.5 million in FY 2014-2017 and $85 million in FY 2018 in funding for Specialty Crop Block Grants, which provide funding for state-specific projects that can promote and research potatoes;
  • · Reauthorization of $200 million per year in Market Access Program funding, which provides funding for specialty crops, including potatoes, to promote U.S. agriculture in foreign markets; and,
  • · Reauthorization of $9 million per year in Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops funding, which addresses foreign market access barriers that block the export of U.S. agricultural products, including potatoes, from their intended destinations.

 “Once the odd man out, the specialty crop industry earned respect in Washington, D.C.,” said, describing his own work and that of “growers, state associations and industry partners” who worked on the bill.


American Crystal CEO lauds Collin Peterson in sugar program win

In an op-ed written by the American Sugar Alliance, it was noted that David Berg, president and chief executive officer of American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorhead, Minn., was invited to attend last Friday’s presidential farm bill signing in Michigan, home to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Agricultrue Committee.
Berg credited Stabenow, but also Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.
“Minnesotans and North Dakotans are blessed with elected leaders that understand agriculture and the importance of a strong farm policy,” Berg said. “The sugar provisions in this bigll give us a chance against low prices and foreign subsidies, and it wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
John Hundley, a farmer and chairman of Sugar Cane Growers of Florida, lauded sugar as “the cheapest major commodity policy in America.” Large confectioners spent millions trying to gut the policy, which the sugar alliance says “would have left America dependent on heavily-subsidized foreign sugar suppliers.” The industry claims to support 142,000 jobs.

What did Goehring do to draw the ire of his old buddies at the ND Farm Bureau?

I took this picture of Doug Goehring when he hosted an Environmental Protection Agency visit at his farm near Menoken, N.D., in 2010.


It will be fascinating to learn what North Dakota Ag Commissioner Doug Goehring has done to draw the ire of the North Dakota Farm Bureau.

A media advisory on Feb. 3 announces a news conference today at the Ramada Inn, announcing the intentions of Judy Estenson to file for his office. I’ll miss it, but the event is being handled by Dawn Pfeifer, who handles communications for the NDFB in Fargo. This makes it look like the right-leaning organization has a new horse in the 2014 race in which Goehring will try to defend his position. Republican district conventions start next week.


Goehring, of course, was the former NDFB vice president under Eric Aasmundstad of Devils Lake. At the same time he served as president of the Nodak Mutual Insurance Co., as Aasmundstad served as its vice president, through some difficult times for the company.

Goehring tried to be ag commissioner when Democrat-NPL man Roger Johnson was commissioner. It was only when Johnson left the scene to become president of the National Farmers Union, that Goehring was appointed to the position by now Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. When the NDFB threw some of its political action committee money behind Goehring in 2010, he beat state Rep. Merle Boucher, D-Rolette.

So, what has Goehring done to make the NDFB so mad that they’d challenge a sitting ag commissioner – one of the three members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, one who has championed the property rights and oil and gas interests that the organization often aligns with?

Was it too much support of animal cruelty felony penalties in the 2013 legislature? Not enough opposition (even though NDFB gave kudos to the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association for their work on the bill). Not enough time for former president Aasmundstad who was then a NDFB lobbyist? Or maybe Goehring didn’t voice enough support to the NDFB’s right-to-farm efforts?

A Google search of Estenson doesn’t offer many hints of why she’s the chosen one.  She once wrote a letter to the editor, blasting the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead for supporting the animal measure. I tried to reach her through her farm number at Warwick, N.D., which is south of Devils Lake near Stump Lake National Refuge. But no one immediately called back. (Cell is 701-936-0686, if you’re interested, Ms. Estenson.)

So, what’s happened here?

Did Goehring hire the wrong person at some point? Too many South Dakotans? (Hey, I’m from South Dakota.)

He seems to have picked people with close ties to the NDFB. Goehring’s deputy commissioner, Tom Bodine, of Minot, has a North Carolina degree, but he farmed in North Dakota and held a NDFB leadership post before taking the deputyship. Britt Aasmundstad from Devils Lake is a policy analyst in the department.

Did Goehring on too many trade missions, peddling North Dakota soybeans, corn, pulse and specialty crops? Say the wrong thing sometime or another? Try too hard to protect honeybees?

Whatever: The NDFB has been looking for someone to run against Goehring and they’ve found Estenson. Such a move would likely be vetted before the NDFB’s council of county presidents.

It’ll be fascinating for the relatively few North Dakotans who know much about  the office, even though it has extensive regulatory influence over farmers. Occupants of the office have won their votes through elevating their public image with the population centers — cheerleading for farmers and ranchers, helping them to throw away unused chemicals, and helping the state’s folk businesses sell  things at Christmas.

It is interesting to imagine what Warwick might do differently than Goehring, and how much the conservatives will spend to beat each other. Or maybe Goehring will just get the message – whatever that is.

Relcore - computer help for ….



Farmers show curiosity at first formal “industrial beet” commercialization meets

Randy Grueneich, Barnes County Extension Service ag agent. Photographed Jan. 28, 2014, at Valley City, N.D.

Dave Ripplinger, an agricultural economist from North Dakota State University, speaks about their interest in producing “industrial beets” at a group of about 40 farmers at the Valley City, N.D., on Jan. 28. Green Vision is promoting raising beets outside of the Red River Valley for ethanol and other products, but not refined sugar.

The North Dakota State University Extension Service seems to be especially helpful to the Green Vision folks who are preparing the groundwork for “industrial beets.” It’s not an entirely new crop to the region, but it is new to growing areas outside of the Red River Valley, and the markets are not entirely set, so there is a lot of curiosity.

Randy Grueneich, the NDSU Extension Service county agent for Barnes County attended the Jan. 28 meeting in Valley City, N.D., where about 30 to 40 farmers  were asked about their interest in the enterprise – either growing beets for it, or perhaps investing in a project , on the assumption it would arrive.

Greueneich says the organization is looking for 30,000 acres of production in a 20-mile radius. There is a lot of curiosity of how sugar beets would work in rotations in out-state North Dakota, beyond traditional beet-to-refined sugar production in the Red River Valley.

“One thing they covered today is, ‘Do they work in rocks?’” Grueneich says. Farmers are also interested in how the company addresses the need for harvest-time labor. In the end, he said farmers may look for greater returns than they’d otherwise expect from corn because of “more risk and unfamiliarity” with the crop, compared to what they’re used to.

Bruce Anderson who farms west of Valley City, says he’d like to know more cost of production, what advantage it would be financially, and what it would do to his herbicide rotations. “Some of the stuff we use for beans and corn and wheat, we have to be aware of three or four years out,” Anderson says. The “Extreme” chemical, which is a combination of “Pursuit” and “Roundup” would have a 40-month restriction. “We’ve been using it the last two years because we’ve been using it on our soybeans because it’s good for keeping down dandelions on no-till.”

Anderson says he has friends that drive beet trucks for the traditional fall campaign in the Fargo, and knows how involved and intense the sugar beet campaign is.

Al Wittenberg of Valley City, N.D.,  said he’d like the opportunity to own stock, so he can either make money on the crop or the products a plant would produce. “Nobody here knows the labor-intensive requirement to do this,” he says. He’s wary of how many farmers can handle 1,000 acres of beets.

Another farmer in his 20s said he’d be interested in how the plant will determine the price of beets, and who would own the plant. He says he doesn’t know which would be better, but he’d be skeptical of the interest if an outside owner pegs beet prices off of corn. “If it’s like growing corn, you don’t have any risk diversity,” he says. “If you own the plant the pricing wouldn’t be as important. If the plant is making the money the grower will make money.”

Look for a more extensive story in Agweek, Feb. 3, or at