John Snyder, A Leader With Principle

A cooperative spirit kept the Wyoming sugar factory operational

Published online: Feb 01, 2011 Feature Nancy Sanchez, Editor
It isn't well known that the Worland factory for the Wyoming sugarbeet growers was close to shutting down. Built in 1917, the factory went through several name changes from the original Wyoming Sugar to Holly and then Imperial Sugar. Then in 2002, the factory was purchased by growers, landowners, and outside inventors, and was renamed Wyoming Sugar Company.


John Snyder, a grower in Wyoming, grew up farming with his family. "Born and raised in Worland, my dad farmed and his dad before him had a small dairy farm. They raised beef cattle and grew sugarbeets."
"I can remember the old two-row diggers. As a small kid after school I headed to the fields and climbed on top of the digger to throw the mud out."


Early memories during harvest, Snyder recalls Sunday's after dinner at grandma's, ".we would take one of the trucks out and do what we called swamping or pick up the beets. We kids would sit in the truck, an adult would put it in gear, and we would hold onto the steering wheel as the truck moved slowly down the field while the rest of the family followed along, picked up beets, and tossed them in the truck. At the end of the row dad would turn the truck around and switch gears and on we would go again. I remember that it was a 1947 Chevy Truck."



Farming Fancy


On the farm Snyder says he was always doing something. "I had to go irrigate before I was legally able to drive. It was no secret that I didn't like the dairy part of farming so I had decided I wasn't going to farm as a chosen career."


He went off to college and graduated with a degree in Ag Economics at the University of Wyoming. His first job was in Texas working in the produce industry doing such things as truck dispatcher, quality control manager and sales. John and his wife Janet decided that they wanted to return to Wyoming to live and someday raise a family there. They were given the opportunity to return and farm with Janet's family.

John and Janet then became partners in Sage Creek Land and Cattle with her parents and brother. Janet Snyder also grew up in Worland; they were the classic high school sweethearts, he the football player and Janet, a cheerleader.
Together they have built a loving successful family life on the farm raising their two sons.
Jason the oldest is 28 and is married to Kaylan and they are expecting their first child. They live in Texas where Jason is a minister at Prestonwood Baptist Church.


Their second son Steven is 23, newly married to Jamie who is finishing her teaching degree in elementary education. Steven earned his degree in Ag Business at the University of Wyoming and is part of the family corporation. Snyder states that this new generation is a wonderful addition to the farming operation.


"Steven is computer savvy because he grew up with computers and has the background and is unafraid of the computer world, and is more accustomed to it. Steven has brought new thoughts and ideas especially with the new technology in farming. It has been extremely helpful as we move on with technologically advanced farm equipment."


"Both boys worked hard on the farm," notes Snyder, "they participated in 4-H growing a small parcel of beets. However, Jason said he couldn't be a farmer because it was too stressful." At his young age he probably didn't realize how true to life that statement was and as a pastor today he is happy and successful.
Snyder cheerfully states that their new grandbaby may be the only baby in Dallas with a Pink John Deere Diaper Bag.



Crop & Critter


The family corporation named, Sage Creek Land and Cattle Company, consists of John & Janet; their son Steve and his wife Jamie; father and mother-in-law Conrad and Alice Lass; and brother-in-law Stan Lass and his wife Joy.
Snyder says, "Conrad is 83, and is still very active on the farm. He has been farming all his life. His German family came to America and settled in Minnesota and then moved to Worland to work in the beet fields. His dad later became a farm foreman for Holly Sugar. I believe they came here when the sugar factory was just getting started. Con and Alice have been farming together since 1954."


With the addition of Snyder's son Steven there are five generations of sugarbeet farmers on both sides of the family. Currently the company farms about 2,500 acres with over 800 in beets. Rotational crops include malt barley they grow for Coors. There is a large receiving station in Worland; Snyder says some of the best barley grown for Coors is in the mountain west regions.


They grow about 100 acres of corn, a little alfalfa hay and alfalfa seed they contract with Allied Seed. Snyder says they will be in the wheat business next year.
They no longer have cattle, but the name Crop & Critter was dubbed by their John Deere salesman and so it remains the amusing title to the farm.



Ultimate Environmentalists


Discussing the many challenges Snyder and Sage Creek face sounds almost daunting. However, the positive, ambitious attitude and strong heart radiating from Snyder is inspiring.
"I am sure every business has its challenges and we have challenges we must deal with such as the weather. Also, our soils around here are such that one part of a field is sandy and another part of the same field is heavy clay with everything in-between. There is no uniformity of soils in the fields."


Irrigation is a big trial at times. "We have a good source of water and early water rights; however, the water coming 100-150 miles away from us does pose a problem with weed seeds. The reservoir and canal systems always provide for our needs but every time we irrigate we deal with a new set of weeds as compared to well water and rainfall. Obviously, weed control is of utmost importance."


Snyder explains they also face all the known diseases for sugarbeets. Recently they have started getting a little cercosperoa. "We are staying aware of the presence of that disease and apply chemicals as needed. We do have a huge problem with curly top and growers in the area plant resistant varieties, use a seed treatment called Poncho-Beta, and have a leafhopper management spray program."


For the most part they manage their water well and the increase in center pivots is taking the place of row irrigation.
"We can manage our water so much better with center pivots. Water application rates and timing is much better. Farmers are the ultimate environmentalists; our livelihood depends on our soil and water, and we take care of it."



Strip-Tillage


"We are moving into a lot of strip-till," said Snyder. "We just started last fall for the spring 2011 crop. All the benefits of strip-till are great. It helps with reducing chemical and fertilizer applications. We have determined that we eliminate 8-9 trips across the field."
The farm has been looking into the strip-till method for the last three or so years and in 2010 they bought a Schlagel Strip-Till.


"Knowing we could eliminate those trips across the field, save fuel and the huge benefits to the environment made it a good decision."
Growers in small towns often watch each other and learn. "We look at what the neighbors are doing and then if we participate in similar methods we can share parts and have a friendly comradeship. Other growers have been doing it for a few years and with great results."


When discussing the Roundup Ready beets and biotechnology, Snyder says, "It is a tremendous technology and has given us the opportunity to move to strip-till. The growers in Worland were the first to commercially grow the Roundup Ready seed. Our weed control before that was not good and we had a shortage of labor so in 2007 we did a limited launch. Growers were specially trained to do things right. It moved smoothly and we transitioned nicely into growing 100 percent Roundup Ready seed because of the superior weed control."



Leadership


Currently Snyder is the president of the Washakie Beet Growers Cooperative, serves on the Wyoming Sugar Growers LLC board, and on the ASGA Executive Board, serving as chairman of Public Relations Committee. "I enjoy it even though it is hectic sometimes. Having capable and understanding partners makes it possible. There are a lot of good people in the industry.

It is their business as well and they want to succeed. We have people come from all over the country and we work together to get things done. At the end of the day we get it put together."
Snyder is quick to point out how talented and exceptional Luther Markwart is for the industry. "Luther is a tremendous asset to the industry, it is hard to explain in words as to how much a benefit he is and how passionate about the industry. We are so lucky to have him. He is well respected throughout the country. Walking the halls in D.C. other organizations will point out Luther and say "Hey, there is Big Sugar!"


"The whole group at ASGA, four in all, is effective in doing what they do. It is really amazing how much they are respected in D.C. They are trustworthy and they answer questions and inquiries truthfully."
No doubt the nation as well as the world is watching closely the actions of the leaders in the sugar industry. It is good to know the reputation is positive and respectful for those in leadership positions representing the sugarbeet growers.



Progressive Growers


Education is a vital part of any successful Ag business. Snyder considerately explains, "With my kids, I required them to go to college. Even if they did want to come back and farm I told them they needed to have a degree. If farming was their choice they needed a degree because if things didn't work out on the farm they had an opportunity to do something else. However, I made them hoe weeds and all kinds of laborious farm work so they could understand the benefits of hard work."


Another aspect of a higher education is the ability to make good business decisions. And it is also a good idea to get some experiences off the farm. "My couple of years in the produce business has been beneficial to what I am doing now."
In the past Snyder believes the farming community let a lot of talented young people go because there wasn't the opportunity for that talent. Now there is a lot more opportunity and especially with the high-tech way of farming and complicated business decisions the talented young generation is coming back.


"It is important to get that next generation on the farm and to keep things going. Locally, in the last 5 to 10 years we have had a lot of young people come back to farming."
In 2002 Worland almost lost its sugarbeet industry. "Back then we did what we had to do. Growers had to put money back into the factory-by opening it up so other outside investors could also purchase shares-we were able to keep the factory going."


"The outside investors didn't want to see the factory fail because of what it did for our economy, our smaller towns. Many investors added up and the factory was saved. Without the community and Big Horn Basin area coming together it wouldn't have happened. Within the past two years, the move toward a grower-owned factory has been completed. All of the shares are now in the hands of the growers, and the company is now called Wyoming Sugar Growers LLC."


"During the time when the outside investors were buying shares we were using a local accounting firm as our office to sell shares. One day this fella came rolling in in his wheelchair. He used to be the maintenance manager for the school system, now retired and his wife a nurse. He had lost both legs to diabetes, and one day he came in and said "Where do I buy these shares, I don't want this factory to go away." That story tells volumes, it is an example about the dedication of the community and how they knew the value in keeping the factory in business for our small community."


It is those kinds of inspiring stories that remind us of how a lot of small contributions can make a huge impact. Without all the smaller outside purchases of shares the factory would have failed and the community would have suffered.
Leaders in the sugarbeet industry are symbolically purchasing shares for the future sugarbeet industry. Every small purchase adds up to the big picture.