Grower Spotlight: David Kragnes (Felton, Minnesota)

October 5, 2007

David Kragnes sits on the Board of Directors for a major American company. But David is different from your average corporate board member. He doesn’t wear a three-piece suit to work every day or drive a luxury sedan. He drives a Deere and feels more comfortable in jeans.

David is a fourth-generation sugarbeet farmer from the small town of Felton, Minnesota.

David and his wife, Peggy, were among the first farmers in the region to join what would become America’s largest sugar cooperative—American Crystal Sugar Company. Buying into the cooperative was a huge financial commitment, and as David puts it, he literally “bet the farm it would succeed.”

Today, nearly all sugarbeet growers own the companies that process the beets they grow. In fact, farmer-owned companies account for 100 percent of America ‘s sugarbeet processing capacity.

The success of these companies not only affects the lives of farming families, these companies literally support entire communities.

The community where David and Peggy reside is in the Red River Valley.

The region is home to more than 4,000 beet farmers, three farmer-owned sugar cooperatives, and seven sugar processing factories that employ thousands more. Sugar pumps more than $3 billion into the local economy and is the area’s second largest employer next to health care. On some level, nearly everyone in the region is touched by sugar production.

As David puts it, “This area rises and falls with sugar. From the farmers and factory workers, to local businesses, to the governments that depend on sugar’s tax revenue, this region would wilt if the farmer-owned processors went away.”

That’s why David and the other sugar farmers from the Red River Valley are urging the Senate to act quickly in passing a new farm bill that contains a strong sugar policy.

If the farm safety net of the farm bill were weakened, David knows his investment in the farmer-owned sugar company might not be far behind. And that would be sour news for an entire community.