PAUL — In the past 100 years Amalgamated Sugar Co.’s Mini-Cassia factory in Paul has processed 94,907,608 tons of sugar beets — enough for a 26-foot-high wall of beets stretching from the factory to Boise and back on Interstate 84.
The company celebrated its 100th anniversary of the plant Thursday with the growers, employees, company leaders and community.
Mud up to the shin bone and temperatures dipping into the 40s didn’t deter those in attendance from acknowledging the importance of the plant to the community.
John “Bert” Stevenson of Rupert said the factory has impacted the entire area, not just Paul, Rupert and Heyburn.
“It’s been the lifeblood in this community,” Stevenson said.
Amalgamated Sugar has been a part of the community longer than the potato processing factories, he said.
Stevenson worked two campaigns for the company as a rail car checker and two as a sample checker.
“It was the first plant that gave farmers an opportunity to work in the fall,” he said.
Today the Paul factory employs 920 people when harvest is in full swing, a number which dips down to about 500 post-season.
Since 1917, when the factory was built, it has produced 24,920,589,500 pounds of sugar, which netted about $6.73 billion in revenue over the century.
If all the sugar produced at the Paul factory were stored in one sugar silo, the silo would have to be eight miles high, Jessica McAnally, a spokeswoman for the company, told the Times-News.
“A lot of us have survived because of Amalgamated,” said Loren Holyoak, a Burley resident.
Brodie Griffin, Amalgamated’s district agricultural manager, said much of the company’s success can be attributed to the growers who are producing 63 percent more beets per acre than they did in 1996.
The wet weather in 2016 challenged farmers, many of whom still had crops in the ground as the roads broke down and things began looking like a war zone, he said.
“They put their muddy boots on and went to work,” Griffin said.
The die-hard growers represent a “microcosm” of the company, he said.
President and CEO John McCready said in the next 100 years, the company will put money into research to grow the best sugar beets in the country and continue good stewardship of the land.
“You have to show you’re a good company,” he said, “or you can’t sell your product for what it’s worth.”
The company will also continue to implement programs for employee safety and explain to consumers why the company uses genetic engineering.
A culture of employee respect is the backbone of the company, he said.
Todd Merrigan, who has grown beets on the family homestead for the past 30 years north of Rupert, said when the company changed to a co-op it was a challenging time for the growers.
“I grew up raising sugar beets,” Merrigan said.
The Snake River Sugar Co., formed by the beet farmers, purchased Amalgamated Sugar in 1996.
The co-op purchased 222,000 shares at $400 per acre, Duane Grant, chairman of the Snake River Sugar Co., said.
Grant remembers the meeting he attended at Minico High School, where the pitch for the co-op was made.
“It was a hard sell,” he said.
The grower-owned co-op gave the them a huge stake in the success of the company, Merrigan said. Their livelihoods were invested in it. It also gives the growers, who elect a board of directors, a lot of say in what happens with the company. Today the company has 750 growers.
“They have a voice in it,” he said.
Over the years the company played a large role in Mini-Cassia economics.
Along with providing a beet processor for the farmers and giving the factory workers jobs, many satellite companies thrived because of Amalgamated, companies like Barclay Mechanical and TransSystems, the transportation company that hauls the beets.
The company also expanded to sell the beet pulp by-product as cattle feed.
“We can’t do it alone,” said Scott Winn, the Mini-Cassia plant manager. “We have a lot of contractor and vendor support.”
The impact, he said, “is truly far-reaching.”