Gary Tharaldson reflects on the impact of Ryan Thorpe – Agweek

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FARGO, ND — Ryan Thorpe, chief operating officer of Tharaldson Ethanol of Casselton, North Dakota, will be greatly missed as a business strategist and business leader, the company’s chief executive said.

Gary Tharaldson, 76, who owns a dozen businesses including the ethanol plant, said Thorpe’s death on July 7, 2022, at a lakeside home in Minnesota, shocked the business and industry. Thorpe died by suicide.

Tharaldson described Thorpe’s passing as a great loss, personally and professionally. Thorpe was instrumental in guiding what is now the seventh largest ethanol plant in the nation.

Ryan Thorpe. The 47-year-old is fondly remembered for his role as chief operating officer of Tharaldson Ethanol LLC, of ​​Casselton, North Dakota, one of the largest ethanol plants in the United States. The company represents approximately 20% of the entire portfolio, which includes Gary Tharaldson’s business, which includes hotels, land and other businesses. File photo taken April 8, 2020 in Casselton, North Dakota.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

“He was the face of our company, really, because he was the man who went to all the national meetings and state meetings about ethanol, and gave speeches and so on,” said said Tharaldson in an interview with Agweek. “He was a wonderful man and it was a very difficult loss.”

Thorpe has been instrumental in many expansions, especially in recent years.

“He just had this personality that was an ‘A-plus,'” Tharaldson said.

Thorpe, with a background and experience in banking and finance, was on board just before the factory opened in 2009.

A Tharaldson ethanol sign stands in front of the company's ethanol manufacturing plant west of Casselton, ND
The Tharaldson Ethanol plant in Casselton, North Dakota, built in 2008 for about $280 million, employs 57 people. It makes up about 20% of the entire portfolio, dominated by a hotel, land and other entities owned by Gary Tharaldson, one of North Dakota’s wealthiest people and one of its top contractors. File photo taken April 8, 2020 in Casselton, North Dakota.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

One of his hotel employees was Kyle Newman, grandson of Harold Newman, owner of Newman Signs, Inc., in Jamestown, North Dakota, who also owned the corn ethanol plant Alchem ​​​​Ltd. in North Dakota. Kyle encouraged Tharaldson to get into the ethanol business. Ryan Thorpe, who worked for First International Bank, was hired to work on the company’s financial arrangements.

Tharaldson, a hotel construction magnate, started the ethanol plant with a capacity of 100 million gallons per year. Thorpe and his colleagues helped him achieve 175 million gallons of production. The company became proficient in marketing distillers grain and added corn oil production about five years ago.

“I think where his fingerprint is is the relationship he had with all the other (ethanol) plants and the state and national association,” Tharaldson said.

The plant had a difficult start. Tharaldson Ethanol had purchased a German-made pelletizer dryer that never worked. The company successfully sued the manufacturer, but only recovered $16 million of a $30 million investment and purchased a new dryer for $40 million.

Puffy clouds in a bright blue sky flank the Tharaldson ethanol plant in April 2020.
The Tharaldson ethanol plant in Casselton, North Dakota, was built in 2009 and initially suffered construction issues. It produces up to about 175 million gallons of ethanol per year, above its initial rating of 100 gallons per year. File photo taken April 8, 2020 in Casselton, North Dakota.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

As the company regained its footing, another setback occurred around 2011 due to high corn prices and low ethanol prices. Thorpe, then director Kyle Newman and then-CEO Tharaldson’s son Matt Tharaldson navigated these issues. Tharaldson’s capital in the hotel empire allowed them to survive.

Better days have finally arrived. The company posted a profit of $72 million in 2013. Gasoline prices rose sharply, but corn prices did not rise as quickly.

In 2012, Newman stepped down and Tharaldson’s son Matt also sought other pursuits, and Thorpe became COO.

Thorpe oversaw the marketing of distillers grain and corn oil and marketed ethanol through Green Plains, Inc., of Omaha, Nebraska. He worked closely with Ryan Carter, who led plant operations for approximately eight years. The two worked together to find ways to make the plant more efficient and profitable.

A gas pump has choices of ethanol options for motorists.
Ethanol fuel use and consumption increased dramatically in the days of Ryan Thorpe, 47, former COO of Tharaldson Ethanol, Casselton, North Dakota. Thorpe, who died July 7, 2022, was one of North Dakota’s most visible industry ethanol advocates and strategists. File photo taken January 14, 2019 in Valley City, North Dakota.

Mikkel Pates / Agweek

In 2021, gasoline prices rose but corn prices followed faster. The company made $75 million in profits that year. “But we did it all in about three months because of the rising gas prices,” Tharaldson said.

Tharaldson, raised in rural Dazey, North Dakota, went to Valley City State University and taught in Leonard, North Dakota. He sold insurance and soon invested in a Super 8 hotel in Valley City, then began building hotels in 1983. Starting in 1990, he built 20 a year for the first 20 years and up until now , he built 480 hotels over 40 years, averaging nearly one a month. It currently has ten hotels under construction and ten others under construction, with the aim of reaching the 500 mark.

In 1999, Tharaldson sold 219 hotels to employees. (They sold them in 2015, making $600 million over 15 years.) Separately, in 2006, he sold 143 hotels for $1.33 billion and with that, in part, he got into the business. ethanol in 2009.

Gary Tharaldson smiles as he is interviewed at AgweekTV studios.
Gary Tharaldson, North Dakota’s most successful hotel entrepreneurs, built and sold hotels and used some of the money in 2009 to build what became a 175 million gallon per year ethanol plant. Ryan Thorpe served for several years as the company’s Chief Operating Officer. Photo taken July 29, 2022, Fargo, North Dakota.

Trevor Peterson / Agweek

Ethanol accounts for about 20% of its other significant businesses. The other two are hotels and land use planning.

Historically, Tharaldson had avoided farmland, but in 2009 he acquired an 80% stake in a 16,000-acre farming feature in Arizona — essentially a half-valley that has a large aquifer. Initially, Tharaldson leased the irrigated farm to a local farmer who grew alfalfa and to Dole, the international fruit and vegetable company, who grew melons. In 2023, he changes all that. Instead of crops, he will produce 9,000 acres of solar power and has an agreement to sell 5,000 acre-feet of water to a municipality.

Partly under Thorpe’s leadership, ethanol is transforming and diversifying beyond fuel ethanol into other markets.

“We’re not going to be dependent on ethanol per se, but we’re interested in how we can create the byproducts that will make it more stable,” Tharaldson said. Tharaldson Ethanol is added to the plant to extract an “ultra high protein flour”, then markets “protein concentrates” to livestock producers, including cattle, birds and fish.

Tharaldson Ethanol announced that it was an “inaugural turnkey partner” in the project with Green Plains, Inc., a leading biorefining company based in Omaha, Nebraska. Fagen, Inc., Granite Falls, Minnesota, a company that built 60% of the ethanol plant’s capacity in the United States, was announced as the general contractor that just started the project, Tharaldson said.

Tharaldson said the ethanol plant will produce around 550,000 tonnes of carbon per year. They will feed into a pipeline that will send them to storage areas in western North Dakota. “Now, instead of going through the air, it will be captured and put into a pipeline that is expected to be completed in 2024,” for possible deep burial in the earth in western North Dakota.

Tharaldson thinks this will fit into the country’s new environmentally-friendly policies and accommodate markets that particularly emphasize “green” policies, and with the state of North Dakota wanting to be ” carbon neutral” by 2030. “We’ve had just over seven and a half years to get there,” he said.

Tharaldson, whose life passions have been business and sports (sponsoring nationally ranked slow pitch softball) likened Tharaldson Ethanol to a sports team that must carry on, despite the loss of a player.

Brad Kjar continues to manage corn acquisition, serving as a merchandiser for Clifford Farmer’s Co-op Elevator, which supplies corn for the mill. Keith Finney, semi-retired from this position, handles sales of distillers grain and corn oil. Green Plains sells all of the ethanol for the company. Tharaldson said the company is looking for someone to fill the role of Thorpe.

Top ethanol company brass from across the country came to Thorpe for his funeral and memorials. He is buried in Oakes, North Dakota, in a cemetery within sight of the family farms.

All of the company’s financials were in place, Tharaldson said. There was no foreshadowing of death.

“We had just put a new incentive plan in place for him,” Tharaldson said, “and so he had the world in front of him, you know. The plant is going to continue to run very well with his help doing that. .

Tharaldson said it was difficult to understand the “why” in Thorpe’s situation, or whether there was a lesson.

“The thing is, we knew him from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” he said, adding, “If you have a friend who’s really struggling, talk to him. They don’t talk. maybe not what they’re going to do, but sometimes they do, and they really need help right now.

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