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Published September 17, 2012, 10:37 AM

Changing hands

Golden Growers Cooperative has named Scott Stofferahn of Fargo, N.D., as its new executive vice president, succeeding Mark Dillon, who is retiring after being with the company since 1994.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Golden Growers Cooperative has named Scott Stofferahn of Fargo, N.D., as its new executive vice president, succeeding Mark Dillon, who is retiring after being with the company since 1994.

Golden Growers is a 1,585-member corn supply cooperative, now officially based in Minnesota. The co-op is a 49 percent owner in ProGold LLC, a Wahpeton, N.D., corn sweetener factory. The other partner is American Crystal Sugar Co., Moorhead, Minn., which owns 51 percent. Stofferahn, 54, is a veteran agricultural policy maker in the region, and has been a Golden Growers member since its inception.

Stofferahn leaves a high-profile position of agricultural policy influence as state staff director for Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. He’s worked for Conrad since 2001, representing the senator on numerous committees at state and federal levels. He has worked in agriculture, energy, water resources, disaster response and flood protection. He has been a key Conrad staffer for the 2002, 2008 and 2012 farm bills.

“We’re awful happy to find somebody that has as much experience in agriculture in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, as Scott has,” says Jason Medhaug, chairman of the co-op’s board. “We were fortunate to have some very, very strong candidates and we’re really excited to get Scott on board and bring some new ideas to move forward.”

Extensive ag background

Among other things, Stofferahn was North Dakota state executive director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency from 1993 to 2001. He was a partner in his family’s grain and livestock operation near Cogswell, N.D., in Sargent County, from 1980 to 1997. He was a member of the North Dakota House of Representatives from 1982 to 1992. Stofferahn holds a bachelor’s degree in soils from North Dakota State University.

Among first members

The $260 million ProGold plant was built in 1994, but because of heavy financial losses from plummeting corn fructose values, was leased to Cargill, Inc. The co-op is in the middle of the second of two 10-year contracts, running through 2017, and has become a success story for the cooperative-owned processing plants.

Stofferahn and his father were among the first investors in ProGold, and Stofferahn still owns shares.

“We’ve been tracking it quite a long time,” he says. “It’s always been an interest to me.”

He says he’s “ready to be done” with his government service days, and that working with the co-op will be a refreshing change.

“I view (the plant) as a significant asset, and we have an obligation to protect the grower interest as best we can, and make sure it lasts, to make sure the board can protect and improve this asset over the years,” Stofferahn says.

Dillon was Golden Growers’ first executive vice president, hired in 1996 after working for both American Crystal and ProGold.

High-fructose corn sweetener is used in soft drinks and is found in many processed foods. It has been criticized for adding to the obesity problem in children, and often pitted against beet and cane sweeteners for its effects.

Stofferahn says it’s “hard to find any legitimate argument against it.” Dillon says it’s “a sweetener that has a commercial niche. If the public and food processors decided there was no market for fructose, there wouldn’t be one. It’s gotten its share of bad press, almost none of which was scientifically based.”

The Wahpeton plant has the capacity to make about 1 billion pounds of corn sweetener a year. Through its lease revenue, Golden Growers has distributed more than $48 million to its members during the past four years.

$48 million in four years

The corn co-op has members on the ProGold board, which is a liaison to Cargill, periodically negotiating the leases and making decisions on major plant investments. Golden Growers ensures that members deliver corn they produce or acquire through a pool and are paid for it. It also ensures that federal Securities and Exchange Commission documents are filed properly. The company is a cooperative, but is taxed as a partnership according to the Minnesota statute.

Golden Growers also evaluates potential business ventures that co-op members might become involved with. The board also helps qualify new shareholders when stock is sold or transferred.

Dillon leaves the position Sept. 30, but will be available through March 31, 2013.

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