Husker Ag general manager

SETH HARDER, general manager for Husker Ag, stands in front of the ethanol plant facilities near Plainview. 

PLAINVIEW — Ninety million gallons of ethanol produced each year.

Fifty-two full-time employees.

One hundred semi loads of corn received every day.

Husker Ag, which is located east of here along Highway 20, started small in the spring of 2003, producing 25 million gallons of ethanol annually and employing about 30 people.

And ever since — even through some challenging times when commodity prices were volatile — the company has provided an important boost to the rural ag economy.

For its leadership role in the state’s ethanol industry, for its commitment to employees and the valuable role Husker Ag plays in providing a market for corn grown in Northeast Nebraska, the investor-owned ethanol plant has been selected as one of two inaugural inductees into the Norfolk Area Business Hall of Fame.

The hall of fame was created this year and sponsored by the Daily News and First National Bank of Norfolk. Each year, two inductees will be named — one from Norfolk and one from the area.

Talk to members of the ethanol plant’s board of directors — and general manager Seth Harder — and you get a pretty good idea of why the company has been so successful, even in challenging times like the recession of 2009.

"For us to survive that time period, it took a lot of partners, including inside the plant and outside the plant, our customers and our lending partners and different people, our investors, working together hand in hand for us to work our way out of that situation," Harder said.

"It was a real fragile time, not only for us but for everybody — a lot of businesses," said James Krause of Plainview, one of the plant’s board members.

But Husker Ag made it through.

New board member Mark Hall of Norfolk praised the work done by the board members before him.

"I say the board members have been very engaged using their expertise in their different disciplines to help get through tough times as well as positive times. So I see a strong working relationship with board members, working through challenges that come up on a month-to-month or year-to-year basis," Hall said.

Capitalizing on the many facets of the ethanol industry has proven beneficial to Husker Ag — from producing ethanol and corn oil as well as other by-products like dried distillers grains used to feed livestock.

"Value-added agriculture at its finest," Harder said of Husker Ag’s operations.

"These by-products are going around right back to replace that corn we took off (of the market). We're just taking a small portion of that corn, taking the sugar out of it to make the ethanol, and the rest goes back into the same industry the corn was in," said board member Bernie Wrede of Pierce.

"When a bushel of corn comes here, one-third of that bushel goes back as livestock feed, so we're not taking livestock feed away," board member Bob Brummels of Coleridge said.

"It's a refined protein for the feed industries," Harder said.

Husker Ag has also financially supported the installation of blender pumps at gas stations in the area.

"We now have 11 retail locations throughout Northeast Nebraska that we supply directly with higher blends of ethanol," Harder said.

"I think Husker Ag has been influential in getting the customers in our area to better understand the value of ethanol, and especially with Seth's leadership, marketing increased use of ethanol through our blender pump program here in Northeast Nebraska and helping folks understand how that adds value to everybody, as well as the consumer that's buying fuels for transportation means," Hall said.

Also contributing to success at Husker Ag has been the regular efforts to improve the efficiency of the plant.

"We're making a huge commitment investing in improving the plant operation, increasing the efficiency, producing more ethanol, buying more grain, producing more distillers for the livestock industry. That's a $25 million project that's underway as we speak," Hall said last month.

"We continue to grow and try to become more efficient, and that's what we're doing right now is expanding the plant," board member Clark Gansebom of Osmond said. "We've put in grain bins to handle more corn. We've added 1.4 million bushels. We've added things to the plant to become more efficient."

"Trucks can come in, and they can dump really fast and get out of here," Wrede said.

Husker Ag now markets corn oil as well, something it hasn’t always done. Harder said nearly a pound of oil is produced from each bushel of corn. Grinding 30 million bushels of corn each year produces 30 million pounds of corn oil and about 500,000 pounds of distillers grains.

The improvements and expansion of the plant wouldn't be possible without quality, dedicated employees. Many of those who work at Husker Ag have been there since the company was started.

“Anyone can buy equipment and make ethanol, but it takes a dedicated, precision production team to make money. We are very fortunate to have just such a team. A large portion of the work force has been with us for over 10 years and many since day one," Harder said

"It's been kind of a generational thing. We've got a number of father-and-son teams that are working here. They just kind of pass it along and say it's a good place to work, so they encourage family members and friends to come," Krause said.

"We do have good benefits, and we try to remain competitive across the industry and across the region. But I think the biggest thing is we do try to strive for an open, family-oriented style of environment," Harder said.

When asked about what makes them most proud of being part of Husker Ag, board members had a variety of reasons to offer.

"Providing good jobs, a better market for our corn producers and good return on investment for our investors," Brummels said. "It’s the economic impact that we've had on Northeast Nebraska."

"Adding value to agriculture," Harder said.

"And developing a corn market here domestically," board member Marvin Stech of Osmond said.

"An ability to grow, and with our growth we are able to add more economic development. We started small and blossomed out," Wrede said.

"We are very appreciative that we are receiving this award," Harder said. "We want to give thanks to those who helped us receive this award and make it possible."

In other news

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are pledging tough questioning of special counsel Robert Mueller when he testifies before Congress this week as Democrats plan to air evidence of wrongdoing by President Donald Trump in a potentially last-ditch bid to impeach him.

WOODLAND PARK — A man who reportedly was intoxicated on Saturday faces a felony charge after reportedly causing a disturbance and becoming non-complaint.