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Industry Leader Profile: Seth Harder of Husker Ag, LLC
by Kelly Nyberg

“Ever since I can remember, from my school days as a kid, I have always been interested in alternative energy,” says Seth Harder, general manager at Husker Ag in Plainview, Nebraska. In fact, a college project led him to his first job in this industry – and to an incredible passion for ethanol that would last a lifetime.

While majoring in business administration at Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska, Harder studied ethanol production.

“One of the requirements of the project was for the student to take a tour with and interview an expert in the topic they were interested in,” Harder says.

This is where he met Gary Kuester, a founding member and then-president of Husker Ag, which today is a cooperative with more than 500 members and two ethanol production facilities – a 20 million gallon per year (mgy) plant built in 2003 and a 40 mgy plant built in 2007.

At the time, Kuester was building his own private 1 million gallon ethanol plant on his farm near Stanton, Nebraska. After giving an extensive tour of the plant building progress and a lengthy question and answer session, Kuester admired Harder so much that he offered him a job to assist in the completion of the ethanol plant.

Harder says his parents were not thrilled about the job offer, which paid only ten dollars an hour and offered no benefits, but he accepted it anyway. He began as a full-time employee after his graduation in December 2001, writing the business plan which led to the plant receiving its funding and the project being completed.

Eventually, Harder moved to Husker Ag as the co-op’s production manager, where he aided the start-up of the 20 mgy plant, hired and trained personnel, designed programs to track and calculate energy balance, implemented safety procedures, and tuned the plant to minimize energy use per gallon.

In 2004, Harder went to work for ICM, Inc. of Colwich, Kansas, beginning as a start-up and classroom trainer. He assisted in bringing three 40 mgy and one 30 mgy online and worked with a retrofit of a Gaylor-designed plant to an ICM process. At the end of that year, he was asked to return to Husker Ag to serve as plant manager, and he moved up to the position of general manager – first in an interim capacity when the previous GM left, then in a permanent capacity at the invitation of the board.

Sadly, Harder’s mentor Gary Kuester passed away in 2006 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

“I owe everything to him,” Harder said. “He taught me how to make ethanol, but more importantly what ethanol means.”

Today, as Husker Ag’s general manager, Harder has successfully brought the co-op’s 40 mgy expansion online ahead of schedule and under budget, and streamlined the process at the original plant so it runs 50 percent above its original nameplate capacity.

“He is always looking for ways to help make the plant run more efficiently,” says Mike Kinney, president of Husker Ag and chairman of the board.

Harder’s hard work and experience has led members of the industry to admire and highly respect him. His colleagues applaud his incredible passion for the ethanol industry and his dedication to it.

“He eats, drinks, and sleeps ethanol,” Kinney said. “Most general managers wouldn’t get up in the middle of the night to help start a plant back up if something goes wrong. He’s very dedicated and good to work with.”

Harder, his wife Lisa, and their two sons live in Osmond, Nebraska. He is involved in his community through his church’s council, the Nebraska Community College Biofuels Curriculum Advisory Council, and with BIO DRY of Nebraska, which is a community biomass energy project.

 
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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industryís hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanolís carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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