Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative has been a shining star, Chairman of the Board Pat Freese said Thursday, Dec. 12 in Fargo. A shining star’s lofty position is hard to achieve and harder to maintain.
Freese and Kurt Wickstrom, president and CEO, spoke at Minn-Dak’s annual shareholders meeting. Concerns raised at the event included the financial picture for cooperative members, which Wickstrom said is affected by factors including factory efficiency and commodity prices.
“As a cooperative, we are doing what we can to minimize risk in each of these areas,” Wickstrom said.
Wickstrom and Freese both spoke positively about a U.S. Department of Commerce ruling which will return regulations of sugar trade between the United States and Mexico to standards set in 2014 rather than amendments issued in 2017.
Minn-Dak finished its harvest on Nov. 18, 2019, Agweek reported, leaving 30 percent of this year’s volume remaining in fields.
Projecting a yield of 25.5 tons to 26 tons per acre, Minn-Dak reportedly planted 101,500 acres. A final yield has been difficult to determine, Agweek reported.
“The sugar content was in the low 16 percent range, compared to a typical average of up to 17.1,” Agweek reported.
Nature-related challenges were the among the strongest Minn-Dak faced in 2019, according to cooperative leadership.
“Unfortunately, Mother Nature had the final say and it wasn’t pleasant in terms of yield quality,” Wickstrom said. “The implementation of (a risk management) plan is solid. It was just trumped this year by Mother Nature.”
Mike Metzger, Minn-Dak’s vice president of agriculture, said the company used unconventional methods in handling this year’s beets.
“We took muddy beets,” Metzger told Agweek. “We took warm beets and put on ventilation to cool them down, We took beets that were completely frozen. We took beets with excess mud. We allowed field stockpiling. The bottom line is, we did everything we could to allow growers to deliver every acre they were able to.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Wickstrom and Freese did not address the topic of strong odors in the Twin Towns Area. In November, Minn-Dak announced it was working to find a source point for the odors.
Odor-reading inspectors began taking their most recent readings in Wahpeton on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Readings are expected to be taken through Friday, Dec. 13, said Chuck Hyatt, director of waste management for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality.
The inspectors use a Nasal Ranger field olfactometer, Hyatt said. Here’s how it works: raw, ambient air is mixed with air that has gone through an activated carbon filter. A ratio is set and a reading is measured in odor concentration units.
Readings available Wednesday, Dec. 11 were taken on Wednesday, Nov. 27. A location south of Minn-Dak’s fence line received two readings.
“It first had a reading of seven odor concentration units,” Hyatt said. “The second reading showed 15 odor concentration units.”
Odor is a subjective topic, Hyatt said. Readings of 15 odor concentration units, as well as seven odor concentration units, are considered relatively high. At the same time, odor concentration units are not measured in a linear scale.
“This could be considered an objectionably odorous air contaminant,” Hyatt said.
An exact source of the objectionable odor has not yet been determined. Minn-Dak is working closely with the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality to identify a source.
“There are a couple units that could be possible (odor sources), including their ponds,” Hyatt said.
It is possible to monitor the intensity of an objectionable odor, but the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality is currently unable to determine an exact chemical makeup of the Twin Towns Area’s odor. Residents have cited smells ranging from propane to feces.
“The department is not currently prepared to make any statement on the health effects of this situation,” Hyatt said. “Individuals, if they are concerned, should speak with their own physicians and receive recommendations.”
Improvements continue at the Minn-Dak processing plant, which received its groundbreaking in February 1973, Wickstrom and Freese said Thursday. The leaders recalled the words of then-cooperative President James Link.
“We’ve been waiting for this day for 22 years and it’s worth the toil,” Link said. “See what happens when a bunch of fools don’t know when to quit?”
Minn-Dak’s plant started operations in 1974, Freese said. In 2019, it is receiving desperately needed updates.
“The factory is getting back on its feet and because of that, we’re starting to look forward,” Freese said. “Minn-Dak is poised once again to rise to the level of a shining star.”