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American Crystal says plant will continue

American Crystal plans to keep operating its Sidney factory for the foreseeable future, according to Brian Ingulsrud, vice president of Agriculture for American Crystal.

Ingulsrud came to Sidney to address employees at the factory in person he said, and to respond to a recent article published in the Sidney Herald that said growers were displeased with their most recent contract, and feared that the company might be planning to close the plant.

“I want people to know that our plan is to continue operations at the Sidney factory,” he said. “And I think some good evidence of that being the case is that we are spending about $3 million in capital improvements this summer at the factory. That is the most we have spent here in several years.”

Among those improvements will be $1.5 million on a diffuser bull gear, Ingulsrud said.

“It’s a very large gear,” he said. “It’s a project that generally will just help to improve the reliability of the factory.”

The company also plans to put about $1 million into improving its waste water system, to reduce the amount of organic material discharged into its water.

“We are also continuing to upgrade electronic controls,” he said. “That’s sort of a theme. We will be continuing that. It’s a good way to again improve the reliability of the factory.”

Last year’s capital improvements totaled $1.7 million, Ingulsrud added. A majority of that was spent updating the plant’s pebble lime system, which is used to purify sugar extracted from beets. Plant manager David Garland said the upgrade has proven to be very successful.

“We will continue to put investments into the factory to improve operations,” Ingulsrud said. “It is a continuous process.”

Ingulsrud acknowledged growers’ frustration with the contract, which is lower than it has been in years past.

“That was something we needed to address because over the last five years we’ve not made money at this factory,” Ingulsrud said. “The cumulative profit over the last five years has been negative.”

Addressing that disparity was necessary to keep the plant open.

The company has contracted 31,606 acres — close to last year’s 32,000 acres. Eighty percent of that is planted.

Ingulsrud acknowledged that they had negotiating with Big Sky Cooperative to sell the factory to growers. Those talks have fallen through, Ingulsrud said, and appear to be at a permanent impasse.

“When it became clear that a sale wasn’t going to happen, both parties turned their focus to renegotiating the grower payment,” Ingulsrud said. “Our goal is to have operations continue here, whether the factory is owned by growers or American Crystal. But once the sale didn’t occur, we needed to have some sort of change to address the fact that we hadn’t been profitable for the last five years.”

Garland said factory employees sometimes feel caught in the middle during negotiations, which makes for a difficult situation.

“But we are very pleased to continue working under American Crystal,” he added. “And our main focus is to continue operating this factory for many years to come.”

Given the future prospects of Westmoreland, the coal mine where Sidney Sugars presently acquires its coal from, Ingulsrud said they are looking at whether to transition to natural gas or obtain coal from other sources.

Sidney Sugars is one of two customers that Westmoreland sells to, the other being MDU, which is the largest customer. MDU has recently announced that it will close its Lewis and Clark coal-fired unit in Sidney by 2020.

ROI gets a workout

Back in 2016 ROI received a grant that allowed them to bring in a trainer to work out and exercise with the ROI clients.

While the grant was originally just for one year, the clients enjoyed it so much that trainer Danielle Diede decided to keep coming back on a volunteer basis, even though the grant has ended.

“They’re always happy to see me, it’s very rewarding and it’s always fun. When I started I didn’t know any of them and now I know them all by name,” Diede said with a smile. “It’s good for them and they enjoy it for the most part, they complain sometimes.”

When she walked in, the clients were clearly excited to see Diede. And they were even more excited when she turned the music on and gathered them all in a circle to get started.

Even the ROI employees joined in on the fun.

“I really enjoy the exercise time with Danielle. The time is very structured,” ROI client Meghan Erickson said.

Typically Diede spends about half an hour working out with the clients.

“I have really enjoyed Danielle coming to the workshop the past couple years to lead our ROI clients in exercise classes,” said Dan Peters, ROI executive director. “She makes the workout time fun and the ‘guys’ look forward to her coming every time.”

“I like the variety of different exercises we do in our class. I always feel better after the class,” client Chad Richards said.

Graduation Q&A

What are your plans after graduation?

I’ll be attending Dickinson State University to major in agricultural business and minor in ranch management. — Jace Winter

I’m going to MSU Billings and studying psychology and human health performance. — Janelle Brein

In July I’m going to Europe for the Northern Ambassador of Music, and in the fall I’ll be going to Concordia in Minnesota for a bachelors in business. — Shanyn Reidle

I’m going to North Western Lineman school in Meridian Idaho. — Jory Bell

I’ll be serving on a two year mission trip to Brazil through the Church of Latter Day Saints. Then I’m going to school for either civil or structural engineering. — Caleb Slade

Outstanding Wrestlers: Back Row: Cadet: Aden Graves, Elite: Kade Graves.Front Row: Novice: Tyson Syth, Midgets: Brenner Mullin, Schoolboy: Reece Graves, Bantam: Oaklee Lonski. Not pictured: Tots: TJ Ostle, Schoolboy: Amaiya Kirn.

Photo courtesy of MSU News Service 

Bob Quinn, a farmer from Big Sandy.

5 for the next 5

1 Beginning Monday, May 6, East Holly Street from Seventh to Ninth Avenue, including the intersection with County Road 351, will be closed for construction.

County Road 351 is expected to remain closed for one week and will be reopened as a one-lane roadway until intersection work is complete. Throughout the construction process, East Holly Street will be closed in two-block sections working from East to West.

Truck Traffic: Throughout the closure of East Holly Street, truck traffic will detour to Central Ave and 14th St SE. Signage will guide truck traffic along the detour. A detour map can be found on the project website: www.mdt.mt.gov/pubinvolve/eastholly

Non-Truck Traffic: A detour route will not be established for non-truck traffic during the two-block closures of East Holly Street. Motorists should utilize alternative streets during closures.

2 Mother’s day is coming soon. Have you entered our Mother’s Day contest yet? What are you waiting for? Christmas? It’s a chance to win a fee $100 gift card to Reynold’s Market, plus a digital subscription to the Sidney Herald for one year. Voting ends May 18. But don’t delay, enter today. Online at sidneyherald.com.

3 With the weather greening up, the urge to grow things is strong. Even if you are an apartment dweller, you have an option to satisfy that craving, thanks to the Community Garden at MSU Extension. There are still a few 4x8-foot raised beds available for a mere $20. All beds are to be planted by June 1. Those renting the bed agree to keep it maintained. Perennials are allowed, but beds are cleaned out at the end of each season, so annuals are encouraged. Beds are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. Call Timothy fine at 406-433-1206 or email timothy.fine@montana.edu for details.

4 Speaking of greening up and sprucing out all over … a group called Volunteers Beautifying Sidney has begun and they’re looking for volunteers to help with little beauty projects for the community’s parks. The group will start with a list of tasks that has been supplied by Sidney Parks Superintendent Stephanie Ridl. Work begins first at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, at South Meadows Softball complex. Painting and some simple wood work repairs will be performed to spruce things up for the Girls Class A Divisional Softball tournament on May 16 to 18. If interested in joining the group, call or text Doug at 406-480-0701 or George at 406-480-1236.

5 Don’t forget to put your non-perishable food items out by your mailbox for your letter carrier to pick up and deliver to a local food bank on Saturday, May 11. There are also drop-off locations for donations through May 11 at Miller’s Corner, Reynold’s and IGA.

Tester talks about trade, Colstrip, hemp on rural call

To say that Sen. Jon Tester does not support the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements like the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“What I’ve always said is that TPP needs to be fair,” Tester said. “I’ve never said we don’t want to be part of it. (Trade) is critically important. Canada is our biggest trading partner, and the Pacific Rim, including Japan, is very important.”

Tester, back from the Capitol for Easter recess, took some time out from planting his fields to talk to reporters across the state during his latest rural call. Topics ranged from trade and hemp to taxes and infrastructure.

Tester said he has not yet seen the details on USMCA, and that is critical.

“It should be taken up in June, and my guess is it should pass,” Tester said. “But I also need to tell you that we don’t have a lot of meat on the bones of USMCA. I don’t have a lot of information yet. I intend to support it, but I want to see it.”

Tester said pulling out of TPP in the first place was a “huge” mistake.

“That empowered China, who is our biggest competitor,” Tester said. “And Japan is now pulling grain from Australia.”

Now the administration has to try to “put the toothpaste back into the tube,” Tester said.

“It’s going to be very difficult.”

In the meantime, the uncertainty in the market and the political situation are putting downward momentum on grain prices. That deepens the pain from drought and other pressures on farmers.

“If you took away the farm subsidies from farmers right now, you’d see an incredible amount of poverty,” Tester said. “We absolutely have to have (trade). We are a state that ships out an incredible amount of our product domestically. We are dead in the water without trade.”

Tester sees hemp, meanwhile, as a potential bright spot for Montana farmers, but down the road. It’s not real yet.

“But there’s a lot of upside,” he said. “It can be built for both seeds and fiber.”

Tester said he’ll be surveying the situation in Montana, to see where there is potential for expansion. He’ll also be meeting with international investors interested in building processing plants for hemp in the United States.

“It’s not certain where that processing might locate,” Tester said.

While Montana is an option, so are Kentucky, New Mexico and other states.

In the meantime, hemp can still serve as another crop in the rotation, even if the market is small.

“It’s not going to be close to the quantity of wheat or other grains, or even pulses, but you could put a hundred acres in and rotate it through your land and do some good things for soil and make some money on it,” Tester said. “That is the bottom line.”