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VIEWPOINT: Sweet dealer

Sometimes in life if you are really lucky, you have the chance to be part of something very important, not just to you but to society. Sometimes in life if you are really lucky, you get to work with an individual who is important to you and many ...

Sometimes in life if you are really lucky, you have the chance to be part of something very important, not just to you but to society. Sometimes in life if you are really lucky, you get to work with an individual who is important to you and many of those around you. Sometimes in life if you are really lucky, both that chance and that individual happen within the same context.

As for me, the chance occurred within my association as a grower/owner of American Crystal Sugar Company, and the individual was American Crystal's immediate past president, Jim Horvath.

Those who know me know I am cautious about celebrating a success or praising an individual. So often when we do so, things occur that end up disappointing us. That includes present company, by the way; I certainly expect caution from others in their association with me. It is a wise way to live your life.

But in this case, at this point in American Crystal's history and especially now before so many of us lose contact with Jim, it is time to acknowledge what has been.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge one important problem that affects our city: the smell, the terrible, awful, ruin-our-days odor that neighbors of the plants have to put up with. No matter how smart we think we are, we do things many times that hurt others. I truly hope American Crystal can find the answers to this problem very soon.


Today, American Crystal Sugar and its farmer owners are considered leaders in the production of sugar beets and in the storage, processing and marketing of sugar. The company is a world leader; that is a fact. These 3,000 or so owners and their management and employees have created a world-class industry right here in the Red River Valley.

Besides that, the valley sugar beet industry has created many successful independent businesses. Ranging in size from pretty big to relatively small, these are the businesses that designed the new technologies that let farmers keep growing beets while costs continued to increase. Beets could not be grown with the same technology today as was used 30 years ago.

Then there was the technology designed and adapted by American Crystal itself. I am most familiar with the agricultural side of the business. Here it was the employees who calculated the gains from reduced pile heights, aerated piles and even those large storage sheds. There also were other innovations, too many to mention here.

And those innovations were not just on the agricultural side. Production made innovations, too. So did marketing, including negotiations with the House and Senate ag committees to design a sugar bill that was acceptable to the Congress and administration. It happened in every area of the company.

This all happened while, and because, the sugar beet industry did not get one penny of increased revenue on a per-pound basis during the course of 22 years. The programs in place were supposed to guarantee the company 23 cents a pound 22 years ago. Today, it is still 23 cents a pound.

From these 23 cents, the farmer-owned company had to pay all processing, storage and marketing costs. It was only anything left over that was used to make payments to the farmers. If the new farm bill passes, the price may be raised to 24 cents.

What we do know is it was because of Jim Horvath's leadership these things occurred - all of these things. Horvath's reputation carried throughout the industry, and it especially carried throughout American Crystal. Others could probably have done it, but I saw the change that happened within Crystal's administration when Horvath became the company leader.

Yes, he had good people. People such as David Berg, the new president, and Joe Tally, the financial vice president. Probably most important to me personally is that Horvath created a new style of relationship with the owner members. It is a relationship I had never seen before within American Crystal.


"This is just business," one former president used to say. "Don't take it personally." He never could recognize that it was the farmer's money he was talking about. They did take it personally. Horvath recognized that.

It was Horvath's management style that charged key people with constantly searching for a better way. It was Jim Horvath's management style that created a sense of integrity within the sugar beet industry - a sense that meant for the first time, this industry is now held up as an example of how an industry should be run.

Maybe others could have done the same. I, however, have my doubts. People like Jim Horvath do not come along that often.

Kingsbury can be contacted at kae@invisimax.com or (701) 738-0028.

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