The final stop on last week’s Crookston Manufacturing Week Tours organized by the Crookston Area Chamber and Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority was the American Crystal Sugar Factory.  American Crystal is a cooperative owned by approximately 2,600 sugarbeet growers from the Red River Valley in both Minnesota and North Dakota. 

While the business is producing and selling sugar Crookston factory manager Ryan Wall said what the company really does is provide for and support the communities in the Red River Valley. “That’s our business, to make sugar and sell our byproducts,” said Wall.  “But it’s supporting the local communities.  The growers that own our company provide a lot to our community.  Overall our mission is to make and sell sugar but it’s really to provide to the communities.  That’s what we do.”

About 90 percent of American Crystal’s sugar is sold to industrial users such as confectionery, breakfast cereal manufacturers, and bakeries while the remaining portion is marketed to wholesalers and retailers under the “Crystal Sugar” trademark and various private labels for household consumption.  According to Wall, American Crystal produces 20 percent of the domestic sugar in the United States. “For the Crookston facility, we annually do about 1.6 million tons of sugarbeets,” said Wall.  “From that, we make about five million hundredweight or 500 million pounds of sugar.  Valley-wide it’s closer to 10-10.5-million-ton range and closer to 35 million hundredweight or 3.5 billion pounds of sugar annually produced from Crystal sugar.  That’s 20 percent of the total domestic production of sugar in the United States.”

Beside sugar products, a variety of agri-products are created throughout the processing of the sugarbeets.  Those include animal feed and VersaLime explains Wall. “We’ve got the beet pulp which we pelletize or bag in one of our facilities in Crookston,” said Wall.  “We sell that as animal feed, mostly to cattle, but to some other animal livestock operations.  We also produce molasses, which is further refined at a couple of our facilities and then the final byproduct from the molasses refining is also an animal feed supplement in a liquid form.  We’ve got VersaLime that comes out the back.  That’s put back on ag fields for ph control, disease control, and overall nutrients going back into the field.”

The period during which American Crystal’s plants are in operation to process sugarbeets into sugar is referred to as the “campaign” which usually begins in May and concludes the following May when the supply of sugarbeets has been depleted.  American Crystal employees many employees throughout the Red River Valley at its five factories, corporate offices, and tech service center explains Wall.  “In Crookston, we have roughly 280-285 employees, 40 of which are management and the remainder are hourly,” said Wall.  “Company-wide we are closer to 1,800 employees up and down the valley including corporate and the tech services center.  We do have entry-level positions, but we also have skill positions we hire in.  Examples being welders, machinists, millwrights.  On our processing and packaging side, we have on the job training taking employees off the street and turn them into technician level in the field they are in, process or packaging.”