GRAND FORKS — The Red River Valley sugar beet industry struggled through a onerous 2019 harvest and could face a difficult 2020 planting season, too. But the annual International Sugarbeet Institute, set for March 11-12 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, seeks to provide encouragement and fellowship to members of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, said an organizer of the event.

"We want it to give uplifting for people involved with sugar beets," said Mohamed Khan, Extension sugar beet specialist with North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota.

An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people will attend this year's event at which more than 125 companies, all with ties to the sugar beet industry, will exhibit their wares. Doors open at 9 a.m. both days and close at 5 p.m. March 11 and 3 p.m. March 12. Parking and admission are free, as are breakfast and lunch both days.

Typically, sugar beet equipment with a combined value of more than $3 million is exhibited each year. That reflects the growing size and sophistication of equipment used by sugar beet producers, Khan said.

Highlights this year include presentations at 10:50 a.m. March 11 by Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of the Sugar Alliance in Washington, D.C., and at 10:50 a.m. March 12 by Scott Herndon, vice president and general counsel of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.

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Both presentations will help attendees to better understand big-picture issues facing the sugar beet industry, Khan said.

Listening to industry leaders and visiting with others involved in the industry are always valuable, but the opportunity to rebuild enthusiasm is especially important this year after the wet and snowy 2019 harvest, he said.

The event, which began in 1963, has changed its name and location several times. The "international" was added in 1980, when Manitoba sugar producers joined in. Today, participants come from across the country and abroad, though the majority are from the Upper Midwest.

The International Sugarbeet Institute rotates every year between the Alerus Center in Grand Forks and the Fargodome in Fargo, 75 miles to the south. Khan said the arrangement has been popular with, and convenient for, sugar beet producers in both the southern and northern Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, where sugar beets are an important crop.