By Anna Jauhola
Kittson County has long been a major contributor to the Red River Valley’s sugar beet production.
This year brings another boon to the county with local farmer, Kelly Erickson, being elected as chairman of the board for American Crystal Sugar Company. Erickson has been an outspoken, heavily involved advocate for the sugar industry for years. He first served as a director for the Drayton Factory District in 2012. As a fourth-generation farmer, Erickson has raised beets for decades and now farms with his son, Scott, near Kennedy.
Most recently, Erickson served as vice-chairman of the American Crystal Sugar board for two years, so the election didn’t surprise him but he is honored to accept the opportunity.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite a while,” he said. “And like they say, timing is kind of everything. I had an opportunity here and I took it. The board was kind enough to elect me and it’s an honor and privilege for me to do this.”
Erickson is the second beet farmer to be elected to this position from the Kennedy area. Wayne Langen held the post from 1996 to 2000 and served on the board from 1988 to 2000.
Erickson said he is excited to represent Kittson County in the position.
“It says a lot about the beet growing and how important it is in this region of the country, in northwest Minnesota,” he said. “It’s something not many can do – you just don’t get that opportunity very often. It’s a little bit of work, but I look forward to the challenges.”
The sugar industry in general faces many challenges including opposition to sugar and how it affects Americans’ diets, farming practices and beyond. Erickson said he, the board and American Crystal will be working hard to advocate for farmers and the industry in the next farm bill, which is due to come out in 2023.
“The ads on TV, they’re not very kind to sugar,” Erickson said.
He added the group will be working hard on American Crystal’s strategic plan to ensure factories up and down the valley continue operating as intended. This has been a struggle, specifically on the labor side, Erickson said. It also takes a certain amount of capital to operate the five plants up and down the valley.
Last year alone, the Red River Valley produced 410,000 acres of sugar beets.
That makes the region the largest beet grower in the United States and American Crystal is the largest beet sugar producer in the nation. All that comes right back into the communities.
“It’s a $5 billion hit to our economy in the Red River Valley. It’s huge,” he said. “It trickles down. Farmers get this. They hire people, they buy trucks, buy cars. It keeps people in these small towns. A lot of these towns have sugar beet factories, like Drayton. It keeps kids in school, people in church, keeps us using the hardware stores. So it’s very important and vital to our economy.”
By Anna Jauhola