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Port: Tharaldson Ethanol deserves your mockery and derision

Tharaldson Ethanol doesn't want a new soybean crushing facility in Casselton competing with them for crops, but they've said they'd be happy to drop their opposition in exchange for a $40 million payment and, no, I'm not making this up.

Tharaldson Ethanol plant
The Tharaldson Ethanol plant west of Casselton, N.D.
Forum file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — In Casselton, North Dakota, there is hot local debate about a proposed soybean crushing plant to be built on the community's edge.

Most of that debate has focused on perfectly reasonable zoning concerns. Will the plant be too loud? Too smelly? Will it create too much traffic for the community?

I've written about this debate before , and interviewed Rep. Jared Hagert, a Republican from District 20 who is also a soybean grower, about the project on my Plain Talk podcast .

But the most recent development in this debate isn't about noise or smells or traffic. It's about an existing company that doesn't want competition.

Tharaldson Ethanol also operates in Casselton. In fact, they own 20% of the land adjacent to where this proposed soybean plant would be built, which, under local ordinances, allows them to force a supermajority vote to get the new plant approved.

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Ryan Thorpe, the chief operating officer of Tharaldson Ethanol, sent an April 25 letter to city leaders formally invoking the supermajority requirement.

Tharaldson's reason for opposing the soybean plant? They don't want the competition, but if they are going to be forced to compete, they'd like the folks behind the soybean plant to pay them for the privilege of being allowed to do business.

It's a nakedly self-serving maneuver, but give them some credit for just coming right out and saying it.

Tharadlson Ethanol letter
A letter sent from Tharaldson Ethanol COO Ryan Thorpe to city leaders in Casselton who are considering the zoning questions about a proposed soybean facility.
Public Record

Thorpe says they don't want the soybean plant built so near their ethanol facility because they're afraid the increased demand for crops would drive up prices.

Thorpe told AgWeek reporter Jeff Beach that "if the plant proposed by North Dakota Soybean Processors is built so close, it will increase the price he pays for the corn that his plant turns into ethanol, hurting his business."

“If it were 30, 40, 50 miles, I would have no problem with it,” Thorpe told Beach, apparently without a hint of shame.

Here's the kicker: Thorpe said his company might be amenable to the soybean plant if the company building it pays them $40 million.

No, I'm not making that up.

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"Thorpe said he did propose a solution to the soybean processors — that they pay for doubling his corn storage capacity so the ethanol plant could buy more corn at harvest, when prices are typically lower, and store it for later use," AgWeek reports. "Thorpe said the cost for doubling his storage capacity would be about $40 million."

MORE FROM ROB PORT
A lot of people are watching these Republican primaries. North Dakota's government is dominated by Republicans, and there is a pitched battle going on right now for the soul of the NDGOP. These legislative races are the trenches in that battle. So far, based on one of the few objective data points we have, it appears the traditional conservatives are positioned to keep their hold on the party.

Try to imagine how that would work in another context. Imagine, say, a car dealer objecting to a competing dealer building a new lot near them, arguing that it will hurt their bottom line, even though the auto-shopping public would no doubt benefit from the competition.

Imagine that existing car dealer demanding payment from the competitor in exchange for them dropping their opposition.

Would that sit well with you, dear reader? Because it wouldn't with me.

The soybean people are saying Tharaldson's argument doesn't hold water, arguing that increased regional demand for soybeans isn't going to drive down corn production , but even if Tharaldson is right I'm inclined to say ... so what?

Do you know who benefits from higher crop prices? The farmers. The men and women who make up North Dakota's primary industry.

Do you know what makes farming a more resilient sort of industry in our state? Increased demand for a variety of crops.

More processing capacity in the state means more opportunity for growers to decide for themselves if it makes sense to grow corn, or soybeans, in a given year.

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Does that mean Tharaldson might have to pay some higher prices as soybeans compete with corn for acres planted? Maybe!

But, again, so what? Why should Tharaldson get to jam up a company that wants to give farmers more options for their products?

That's not the way the free market is supposed to work.

But, hey, at least they were honest about it.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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