Roche honored by Sugar Club, named to Minn-Dak Farmers Co-op hall of fame

Congratulations to Dave Roche, former president of Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative at Wahpeton, N.D. He is expected to be honored Dec. 4 by the Sugar Club and by the co-op as a hall of famer.

Roche was always decent to me in his times at Minn-Dak, even in difficult times. I keep thinking of him on Sundays, as he told me he planned to make more Detroit Lions football games when he retired.

Minn-Dak has enjoyed excellent leaders, including predecessors I’ve known — Gerald Shannon and Larry Steward. Recently, I have gotten to know the new president, Kurt Wickstrom. Look for his comments in an upcoming issue of Agweek.

Roche Inducted Into Minn-Dak Hall of Fame



WAHPETON, N.D. – Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative will induct David H. Roche, former President and Chief Executive Officer, into the company’s Hall of Fame at its annual meeting on December 10, 2013. The award honors a person who has made significant contributions to Minn-Dak and the sugar industry and is voted on by the Board of Directors.


Roche was Minn-Dak’s third President and CEO. He joined the cooperative on March 1, 2001.  He served on the boards of United Sugars Corporation and Midwest Agri-Commodities. In addition, he was a trustee of the United States Beet Sugar Association, Washington, D.C., and served as a member on the Mexican Task Force.


Roche began his sugar industry career as a controller for Michigan Sugar Company in 1976, and was named president in 1994. In 1996 he became president of Savannah Foods Industrial and was appointed senior vice president of Savannah Foods & Industries.


Roche was also named the “Sugar Man of the Year – 2013.” He’s the 56th recipient of the Dyer Memorial Award, which is sponsored by the Sugar Club. He will be honored at a Sugar Club dinner in New York City on Wednesday, December 4.


Roche retired from Minn-Dak on August 31, 2013. He and his wife Rae Ann live in Harbor Springs, Michigan.


Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative is located north of Wahpeton. The co-op has 485 shareholders, employs more than 400 year-round and campaign associates, and has been producing sugar since 1974.



Northern Red River Valley grower finishes sugar beets, wet corn harvest

I took this photo of Kelly and Scott Erickson at their farm in April 2013.


Kelly Erickson, president of the board of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, and a farmer near Hallock, Minn., says the 2013 crop year has turned out much better, agriculturally, than last year when some of his beets had to be abandoned due to wet fields.

The operation run by Erickson and his son, Scott, finished up beets on Oct. 16, compared to a year ago when he tried to harvest beets in a wet November. This year’s yields were very good but the sugar content was a little less than he’d like to see.

“We’re just finishing up ditching, doing some surface drainage and putting stuff away,” Erickson said. The 2013 year was miserable for many growers farther south, but not this time at Hallock. He also raises corn and – because of an inoperable dryer this year – had to haul it to the elevator.

Corn yields have been all over the board, with the “dry yield” coming in at 100 to 150 bushels or more. “Our corn, when we took it was 26 percent moisture,” Erickson says. “We know that’s way to high but you’re always trying to out-think the weather. We took it wet, but I’m happy we made that decision.”


Blizzard-struck cattle producers still deciding how to dispose of dead

On Oct. 15, I shot this picture of some of Richard Papousek’s cattle that had wandered up a Badlands wall near the town of Wall, S.D., during an Oct. 4 blizzard, and then were forced over a steeper area to their death.

On Oct. 24, ranching victims of the Oct. 4, 2013, blizzard in western South Dakota are still working on how to properly get rid of dead cattle. The weather disaster is clearly historic and devastating financially for individuals and for communities that depend on them.

Richard Papousek of Quinn, S.D., who lost cattle near Wall, says he’s still working to get sufficient paperwork to a lawyer over whether his cattle that had insurance can be considered drowned if their lungs were heavy with water – asphyxiated — but they did not become submerged in surface water like a river, creek or stock dam.

As for the piles of Papousek’s cattle in places like one pasture just east and south of the city of Wall, he says there are still questions on how to handle them.

“We discussed it at a meeting last night,” Papousek says, referring to a group of ranchers that graze on public lands. “I think we’ll be able to maybe burn them. If we can, we’ll get a bunch of old (wooden) posts and putt them in there. I think that might work.” There were even more that have recently shown up than when I went to his place on Oct. 14.

I photographed Richard Papousek talks on the phone on Oct. 15 about what constitutes a “drowned” beef animal for insurance purposes. Ten days later, he says he’s still working on that issue.

It isn’t clear whether the federal government’s return to work will hasten any relief for producers like Papousek. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s livestock aid programs aren’t currently in effect, but the USDA’s Farm Service Agency has urged producers to keep track of losses in case programs eventually become available.



NDSU’s distinguished ag alumnus: Arlen Leholm’s ‘nuggets’ on emotional intelligence

I enjoyed Arlen Leholm’s speech Oct. 23 as part of his recognition as the North Dakota State University agriculture college alumnus of the year.

The irrepressible Dr. Leholm, of Madison, Wis., is a North Dakota native and agricultural economist who has been successful in academic and career turns in North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan. These days he’s also working in consulting in various businesses, most notably as a leadership coach who advises companies on developing the “soft skills” that often undo people. He also talks about bringing forward some companies on his own.

As an agricultural economist, Leholm is really more of a societal psychologist. In a 45-minute speech you hear about 50 things, of which 10 good “nuggets” of wisdom might sink in.

Significantly, Leholm talks about the benefits of getting beyond “command and control” and getting to the emotional and spiritual energy of people. He talks about the benefits of encouraging “divergent thinking before you converge,” and the benefits of executives employing “empathetic and comprehensive listening.”

Leholm discusses the benefits of creating “self-directed work teams” within organizations.

He talks about his worries for America, including the low high school graduation levels and the lack of mentors in society. He thinks the soft skills need to be taught, deliberately, in the high schools and colleges of the country.

He says the U.S. has a knowledge and relationship-driven economy, but the increased incidence of dysfunctional families undermines this power. He says that once habits of interpersonal relationships – good or bad – are learned, they are neurologically hard to change.

He says IQ is inborn and personality is set by age 22, but that “emotional intelligence” – personal competence and social competence – is something that can be studied and improved. He says studies indicate that 58 percent of performance in jobs is based on this emotional intelligence.

“The great news is you can get better at this,” he says.

Leholm was asked whether the preponderance of electronic communications helps or hinders emotional intelligence and the workings of people in organizations.

He said the increased frequency of communication can be a help, but that the big problem is that there is no reading and recognition of things like body language. He says it is important early-on in business and other relationships to have a high amount of face time, if virtual teamwork is to be successful later on.

On current politics, Leholm addressed the dysfunction in the federal government. He says the problem in Washington, D.C., is that people on both sides of issues with divergent views can’t negotiate because they are more concerned about their “positions” than their “interests.”

The positions are often all-or-nothing. People focusing on interests can reach agreements because they can calculate how much of their interests – say 60 percent — need to be met for agreement.


Consider hearing a truly distinguished NDSU ag alumnus today at Barry Hall

I’m going to go over this afternoon and listen to Arlen Leholm, the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources at North Dakota State University. He’s scheduled to present a seminar today at 3 p.m. in Barry Hall 368 in Fargo. It’s free and open to the public. I don’t know what he’ll talk about but I strongly believe it’ll be worth the time.

The NDSU Distinguished Alumni Award Program is sponsored by each of the colleges at NDSU and recognizes accomplishments of outstanding alumni and educates students by introducing them to successful alumni in their respective fields of study. The distinguished alumni will share career-related experiences and knowledge as they give presentations to the NDSU community.

Leholm is the executive director of the North Central Regional Association of Agricultural Experiment Stations – one of four regional associations in the U.S. with responsibility of facilitating cooperation of regional and national research.

He has conducted research on high-performing teams in the private and public sectors. In 2006, Michigan State University Press published Leholm’s book, “Increasing the Odds for High Performance Teams – Lessons Learned,” co-written with Raymond Vlasin. He has helped public universities across the U.S. build research/Extension teams and private-sector firms establish cross-functional teams at the top of their organizations.

Leholm was dean and director of the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, and director and associate director of Michigan State University Extension. He served in these roles a total of 12 years with responsibility for more than 1,000 faculty and staff in each state.

Leholm was a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University and co-director of the university’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources. As a consultant to the World Bank, his work had an influence on improvement of Extension, research and client-linked services in India and other Asian countries.

He has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, including serving as program leader for community, natural resources and economic development in the University of Wisconsin’s Cooperative Extension Service. Earlier he served as director of the Center for Rural Revitalization and as Extension specialist in farm and financial management for NDSU Extension Service. He established North Dakota’s farm financial analyst program to deal with the farm crisis in the 1980s.

His background includes ownership and operation of a large multi-enterprise farm. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from NDSU and his doctorate from the University of Nebraska, all in agricultural economics.

I remember Arlen from the 1980s in Fargo, when he was dealing with farm credit crisis response work for the Extension Service. He’s always been kind and very helpful to anyone I’ve known who’s dealt with him — an apt recipient of the distinguished alumnus award, in one scribe’s humble opinion.



Energae official’s testimony raises questions about how federal grand juries work

How does a federal grand jury work? I wondered this as one of the former Energae LP officials makes his way to his testimony at 2 p.m., today in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It isn’t known who the target of the investigation is, but the Internal Revenue Service is involved. One source in the federal law enforcement world tells me that the federal government in some jurisdictions might convene a grand jury every three weeks to consider many cases at once — eight or 12 of them, for example. Up to 23 jurors are approved to listen to the case, but the officials don’t have to have all 23 to vote. Sometimes one or more jurors might be excused from voting because of illness or some other conflict. After the jury hears the evidence for a proposed indictment – a process that can take days – they vote on the indictment. At least 12 of the grand jurors must voting for a proposed indictment to make it a “true bill,” putting it into effect. If a true bill is approved, the U.S. Marshall’s office either arrests the indicted person, or perhaps they appear in court with an attorney but without immediate arrest, depending on the individual case circumstances. The public is only officially told about an indictment after that point.

Former Energae LP president says he’s subpoenaed for federal grand jury Oct. 23

I photographed Osmund “Bud” Jermeland at Estherville, Iowa, in August 2012, for Agweek.


A former president of Energae LP of Clear Lake, Iowa, confirms to Agweek that the Internal Revenue Service has subpoenaed him to testify in a grand jury on Oct., 23, 2 p.m., in federal court at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Energae is a biofuel manufacturer that in 2012 tried in vain to develop a beet-to-ethanol plant in Grafton, N.D., and has sold company shares and tax credits in North Dakota.

Osmund “Bud” Jermeland, a farm equipment dealership sales manager at Estherville, Iowa, who served as president of Energae from July 2008 to July 2010, says the IRS served him a subpoena at his place of business on Oct. 17. The subpoena asked him to bring any Energae company records he has.

Jermeland he doesn’t know the specific target of the grand jury, but thinks it isn’t Jermeland. He says he knows of at least two other officials or former officials of the company who have received similar subpoenas.

For more information about the case, see this week’s issue of Agweek on Oct. 28, or at


Commentaries aplenty on the wisdom, fairness U.S. sugar industry protections

Here are some beets I photographed, growing near Fairfax, Minn., in July 2013, for the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative at Renville, Minn.

There are lots of commentaries out there on the U.S. sugar program these days. The industry is a stalwart, signature crop in the Red River Valley with American Crystal Sugar Co. in Moorhead, Minn.; Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, N.D., and the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative at Renville, Minn.

 I  see a writer named John Updike offer up a column on sugar for Grist, a Seattle-based online publication. Updike criticizes recent government purchases of sugar and the cost to taxpayers. From what I can find on the internet, Updike is trained as an ecologist and does some journalism.

Updike starts with a clever lead: “Trick-or-treaters in waiting take note: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is buying up a stockpile of sugar, spending about $1 per American resident on a sweet bounty that it can barely give away.

“That’s because the government has been promoting the planting of more sugar cane and sugar beet crops than the over-sugared country can bear. Meanwhile, the North American Free Trade Agreement has opened an import spigot that has seen Mexican sugar flowing unencumbered into the U.S.

“To reduce the financial burden on the agricultural companies that planted all those unsellable, diabetes-inducing crops, the USDA is going on a sugar-buying binge.”

Updike quotes a Bloomberg piece in which Arthur Liming, a Chicago-based futures specialist at Citigroup, says the government is “still supporting growers to produce more sugar than we actually consume.” Bloomberg quotes Tom Earley, an Agralytica consultant, as saying the “cost to the government of subsidizing the sugar industry” might be between $200 million and $300 million.

I might add a few observations:

  •  The USDA may be buying the sugar “stockpile,” but that’s because the Congress, right or wrong – the majority of representatives (who in turn represent all of us, yes?) – have agreed to this program and have declared it to be the people’s policy, for the security of a domestic sugar supply. We’ve done this over and over.
  • The program is promoted by persistent, effective lobby for the U.S. sugar growing and processing industry. The program passes Congress decade to decade, but is it a quid pro quo for money paid? Or is it at least partly because the sugar producers have a convincing story?
  • The U.S. sugar program is billed as “no-cost,” but this is only partly true. At times – like now – there is a cost, even if defensible. (It is like saying insurance indemnities are “no-cost” to insurance companies, even if defensible and actuarially sound.) But the same bill supports infinitely larger programs that cost taxpayer money every day, every year.
  • Earley’s estimated government’s spending of is up to $1 per American, but as little as 66 cents per American. I wonder if Earley might average that cost over all years in a farm bill.
  • Sugar “induces” diabetes?  I agree that Americans have gotten fat and there’s too much diabetes. Yes, the over-consumption of sugar is one of the contributors to diabetes. Yes, too much sugar  is bad for diabetics. A lot of things are bad for diabetics, including sedentary lifestyles.
    •  “The government is supporting growers to produce more sugar than we actually consume,” is a matter of semantics, but gives a false impression. U.S. producers in fact grow, process and market LESS sugar than the U.S. market demands. Sugar producers want to keep imported sugar out, but Congress ensures America will import a certain amount of sugar from certain Caribbean countries and Mexico, for other trade and geopolitical benefits that have nothing to do with sugar. U.S. processors and producers have made this deal out of self interest because they want to compete with the volatilities of “world price” sugar, which they label as “dump” sugar, from countries with poor labor standards, or where governments subsidize sugar production. I have seen various studies on this and I don’t know if I believe any of them.

Usually sugar protections are loudly opposed by “sugar users” – the makers of the candy bars consumed by the trick-or-treaters that Updike refers to. Sugar producers argue effectively that even if the cost of sugar were far less – even zero — candy bar costs would not come down much, if at all. They note that candy bar makers and other users are some of the richest people in the world, regardless of the sugar price. I have never seen sugar users refute either of these assertions.

One thing I do have  a strong opinion on. I think Uncle Sam would pay dearly to restore a domestic supply of sugar, a staple food ingredient, if the industry were decimated. I’d think we’d gladly pay way more than $200 million to $300 million a year. The price of a candy bar at a convenience store once a year would be a bargain.


Wyoming beet producers report big crop, potential losses due to 2013 sugar nosedive


This is an experimental plot of sugar beets grown under irrigation — not for sugar production — but for ethanol production. I took this picture in 2013 in late August in central North Dakota.


I see my old friend, Tom Lawrence,  a classmate at South Dakota State University, is reporting on sugar beets for the Powell (Wyo.) Tribune.

Today, Tom quotes Fred Hopkins of the Penrose area, who says his 30-ton-per-acre sugar beet crop is the “best we’ve ever seen” but might be a money-loser, because of the diving price of sugar. Western Sugar Cooperative is paying prices not seen since the 1980s.  The Tribune quotes Ric Rodriguez, a 1,400-acre grower and board member, who says the co-op isn’t selling much right now because of the low price.

Hopkins tells Lawrence that if the beet price is $40 a ton he’ll cover the cost of production and if it’s in the $30 per ton area he’ll have lost money.

Rodriguez tells the Tribune that if farmers have been “smart in the past, they should be OK.” “It just depends on if you took advantage of the good years we had,” Rodriguez tells the Tribune. “It’s a fluctuating market.”


FBI pays a visit to Energae promoter’s home in Forest City, Iowa

I took this picture of the Darrell Duane Smith home on July 20, 2013. It was the scene of an FBI inquiry on Oct. 3, 2013, according to both official and unofficial reports.


FBI officials visited the home of beleaguered Energae LP promoter Darrell Duane Smith’s in Forest City, Iowa, on Oct. 3. It isn’t clear what they were looking for, or whether anyone was taken into custody.

Darrell Duane Smith was a stockbroker and insurance man who lost his licenses this past summer after Iowa insurance and investment officials alleged he’d improperly handled funds for clients. He was a promoter of Energae LP of Clear Lake, Iowa, and an associated I-Lenders company.

Local Forest City police officials confirmed they had assisted in an FBI action involving Smith. A separate witness said that at about 7 a.m.,  six vehicles stopped at his house at 115 Oakview Drive in Forest City, Iowa, and that four or five people went into the house and that two people stayed outside with the car. At about 9 a.m. Smith was taken out of the house and placed in one of the cars.  

Later in the morning, officials with FBI jackets arrived at Smith’s  Mason City office, where they took boxes out of the office. Jim Fitzsimmons, a lawyer in an action against Energae, whose office is above Smith’s in the same historic bank building in Mason City, told colleagues he spoke with the FBI officials, but that Smith didn’t appear to be there.

In a separate development, the Forest City Summit newspaper recently reported that on Aug. 30, 2013,  two properties owned by Darrell D. Smith and his wife, Julie A. Smith Vaagen (also listed as Julie A. Vaagen Smith),  were transferred only into the wife’s name, The transfer used a quit claim deed so there was no money transfer. The newspaper lists Smith’s wife as Julie Vaagen-Smith. City officials confirmed that the properties are in the Rainbow Valley subdivision, where the Vaagen-Smith and Smith live.

Neither Smith nor his lawyers returned messages from Agweek this week.

Agweek has been reporting on Smith and his activities with Energae, LP, since March 2012 when Smith promoted plans in Grafton, N.D., to refurbish a mothballed corn ethanol plant into one that made ethanol from sugar beets. That plan never got off the ground, but the company has a number of investors or lenders in the region.

Two sets of people with Park River, N.D., roots are among plaintiffs in two separate cases that sought to force the company into receivership, and to get Smith out of the company’s management. Energae had been associated with Permeate, a plant at Hopkinton, Iowa, and a separate waste-wood to electricity plant at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

For information about an earlier Energae meeting with investors, and for updates on recent actions involving Energae, go to Agweek, Oct. 7.

I took this photo of Darrell Duane Smith’s office in Mason City, Iowa, in the summer of 2012. In that case, I stopped to see Smith at about 9 a.m. on a weekday morning. One other man was there, waiting to see Smith. I took a walk and visited the famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed hotel across the street. An hour later, I returned and still no one was there. The door was wide open. Smith was no longer working for Multi-Financial Securities. It isn’t clear what business was being transpired or how documents were secured in an unattended office.

Smith’s office was decorated nautical office art and objects — most notably deep sea diving helmets which are designed to allow the user to breathe and work under extreme water pressure while underwater.