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World sugar producers Fargo-bound: Cass County farmer could become 1st U.S. head of international growers group

Red River Valley sugar beet farmers are gearing up to host other sugar producers from across the world. About 140 sugar beet and cane farmers from 29 countries are expected to attend a five-day conference beginning July 26 in Fargo. This is the f...

Red River Valley sugar beet farmers are gearing up to host other sugar producers from across the world.

About 140 sugar beet and cane farmers from 29 countries are expected to attend a five-day conference beginning July 26 in Fargo.

This is the first time the United States will host members of the World Association of Beet and Cane Growers.

In another first, a U.S. sugar producer is likely to be elected president at the eighth annual conference.

The organization's board of directors is backing Bill Hejl, a beet farmer from Amenia, N.D., as president. A president will be elected July 30 to a three-year term.

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Hejl is a member of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association and serves as the group's legislative liaison.

"The association offers a forum, a great opportunity for producers from around the world to debate, exchange ideas and share their views on the production of sugar beets and cane," said Nick Sinner, executive director of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.

The local growers' group is a member of the world organization and is planning the summer conference.

Farmers from Brazil, the European Union, Thailand, Japan and India are among those expected to attend and learn more about the Red River Valley's sugar industry, Sinner said.

"When farmers get together they like to get in the field, they like to talk about production practices and we're going to allow time for that," he said.

Farmers will attend seminars at the Fargo Holiday Inn about trade, advances in production technologies and issues surrounding genetically modified sugar beets.

They'll also tour local sugar beet farms, the American Crystal Sugar processing plant in Moorhead, and Fargo's Phoenix International, the CNH Global tractor plant and Amity Technology.

Trade negotiators from many of the countries have been at odds in recent trade talks.

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Some sugar-producing countries have demanded greater access to the United State's protected sugar market.

The Red River Valley's beet farmers, the nation's largest producers of beet sugar, are in the forefront of efforts to protect the domestic market from increased imports.

Despite trade differences, the world's sugar producers consider the annual summer conference a chance to better understand the views of other farmers and to develop lasting relationships, Hejl said.

"Things normally get worse when people stop talking," Hejl said. "We try to understand one another, and I think everybody gains from that."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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