Farm Progress

Sugarbeet grower is recognized for integrity and contributions to Michigan’s agriculture and natural resources industries.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer

March 15, 2017

3 Min Read
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE: Ray Van Driessche received the Distinguished Service Award from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University during the ANR Week luncheon March 7.

The fact that Ray Van Driessche was not at the luncheon where he was awarded Michigan State University’s Distinguished Service Award is perhaps a testament to the reason why he was a recipient of the honor, awarded by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources March 7.

Van Driessche, who is the director of Community and Government Relations for Michigan Sugar Co., and six other Michigan sugarbeet growers had already scheduled a work visit to Capitol Hill. The group spoke with legislators March 5-8 on the concerns and needs of the sugarbeet industry. His family received the award in his absence.

Van Driessche was one of three individuals who were recognized with the Distinguished Service Award, which is given to individuals or partners who have made outstanding contributions to Michigan’s agriculture and natural resources industries, and who possess high standards of integrity and character, and positively reflect and enhance the prestige of the CANR. They demonstrate a commitment to MSU and CANR by continuing outstanding levels of leadership and volunteerism at the state, national or international level. 

“I consider it a real honor, but there are so many others out there that do so much, so I don’t necessary think I deserve it,” Van Driessche says. “I really enjoy working with MSU. We are fortunate that MSU is very committed to agriculture, which is evident with the investment made in the new research facility at the Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center. They’ve really done a great job with that facility, which focuses on cash crops. It is already as the hub for cash crops — meetings, research plots, training and education. I’m fortunate to be a part of that member advisory committee.”

Van Driessche grew up on a family farm in southeastern Bay County and farmed full time in a partnership with his brother, Gene, from 1967 until 2005, at which time he went to work full time for Michigan Sugar Co. as the director of community and government relations.  

Van Driessche became a member of the Monitor Sugarbeet Growers Association board of directors in 1986 and served as president for 10 years. He then served as executive director of the Monitor Sugarbeet Growers Association until Michigan Sugar and Monitor Sugar Co. merged in October 2004. He has served on the board of directors of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association since 1991 and was president in 2001 and 2002.

He has served on technical advisory committees at the state and federal level, with particular emphasis on helping the sugarbeet industry navigate complex policy issues during 2014 Farm Bill negotiations. Van Driessche has also taken a lead role on industry trade issues, including service on USDA’s Agricultural Trade Advisory Committee. 

Van Driessche and Michigan Sugar contributed to efforts to resurrect the sugarbeet industry by working with producers, university researchers and MSU Extension to create the Michigan Sugar Beet Advancement Program. In addition to this program, Van Driessche pushed for the establishment of an MSU Extension educator position devoted to sugarbeet production.

In 2014, Van Driessche was presented with MSU Extension’s Key Partner Award for his role in advancing Michigan’s sugarbeet industry.

He is still involved in the family operation and helps out on the farm during the peak busy seasons. Van Driessche and his wife, Geri, have two daughters and two sons. Ray’s two sons are now part of the family farm operation.

The other Distinguished Service Award recipients this year were state Sen. Darwin Booher and William Demmer, CEO of Demmer Corp.

“This is a tremendous honor, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be there to receive the award in person, but I was where I needed to be,” Van Driessche says.



About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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