North Dakota products on display at conference

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- When top agriculture officials from a dozen Midwestern states meet here to talk about issues in rural America, Dan Hofland is hoping they will leave with a good taste in their mouths.

He'll be serving SunButter, an alternative to peanut butter made from sunflowers.

"We know these people are the leaders in their states," said Hofland, spokesman for Red River Valley Commodities, which processes sunflowers. "We want to get the message out that this is a good product."

The Midwestern Association of State Departments of Agriculture conference, which runs Saturday through Wednesday, will attract agriculture officials from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

It's the first time the annual meeting has been held in North Dakota in about a dozen years, said North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson.


"It's a big deal, not only because it gives the member states a chance to talk about whatever the salient issues are in agriculture," said Johnson, who is also the association's president. "It's also a chance for the host state to show off its agriculture."

Advertised to have more fiber and less saturated fat than peanut butter, and can be eaten by people who are allergic to peanuts, SunButter is at the forefront of value-added products in North Dakota, Johnson said.

"These guys, really, they took a big leap in trying to make that all happen," Johnson said. "It's still just a startup company, but it's one of the things we're going to highlight."

The convention will allow SunButter officials to make a "soft sell," Hofland said.

"Because these people are politically connected, we want them to talk about our product," Hofland said. "If there's any kind of help we may be asking for down the road, to get into a state school system, for example, we'll have those contacts."

The tour of value-added facilities in the Fargo-Moorhead area is set for Monday. Besides Red River Valley Commodities, officials will have the chance to see DMI Industries, which makes utility grade wind turbine towers; Earthwise Processing, which processes organic and identity-preserved products; and American Crystal Sugar.

Ted Eubanks Jr., who heads a pair of nature tourism development companies headquartered in Austin, Texas, said North Dakota has many products that could be marketed to people, particularly tourists, from other states.

"Goods and services that are produced locally reflect the nature ... the culture of the area," said Eubanks, one of the convention's featured speakers. "Who mills the wheat? Who bakes the bread? I'm interested in the chain, and I think when tourists become aware of the products they become involved.


"It's a way of allowing these small communities that have no way of moving these value-added products to markets to move the markets to the products," he said.

Other featured speakers include U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Bill Hawks, who will talk about the investigation of mad cow disease in Canada; Ross Davidson, administrator of the USDA's Risk Management Agency; Joe K. Davis, president of AgriLogic, which has been hired by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture to develop a cost-of-production crop insurance program; and Pat Takasugi, Idaho director of agriculture and president of the national group.

The group is scheduled to travel to Grand Forks Tuesday to tour the state mill and elevator; RDO Industries potato processing plant; and the University of North Dakota aerospace and human nutrition centers.

"Touring is important for the commissioners," Johnson said. "I think a lot of folks are going to be surprised by agriculture in the Red River Valley."

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