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Tom Knudsen, veteran vice president of agriculture for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative at Wahpeton, N.D., says this has been a difficult beet harvest season with freezing temperatures and excessive moisture. Photo taken Sept. 10, at Wahpeton, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Knudsen retires after 42 years with Minn-Dak Farmers Co-op

WAHPETON, N.D. — Tom Knudsen, vice president of agriculture at Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative in Wahpeton, is retiring June 3 after 42 years with the company.

He was one of the key decision-makers in agricultural matters, especially during harvest.

Knudsen, known for lacing his announcements with wit and humor, will be replaced by Mike Metzger, who has been research agronomist at Minn-Dak since 2001. Metzer, in a story in Sugarbeet Grower magazine, a sister publication to Agweek, said that Knudsen will be missed, and described him as a "walking encyclopedia of sugarbeet production and storage" information, with an ability to find a clear purpose and direction after considering complex issues.

Knudsen grew up at Abercrombie, N.D. He went to North Dakota State University and received a degree in horticulture with an eye toward a career in crop and weed science. He was hired by Minn-Dak agriculture manager Gordon Rudolph and started as one of many agriculturists at Minn-Dak upon graduation in 1977. The co-op had started processing beets in 1974, growing to 50,000 acres and 250 shareholders.

Knudsen succeeded Rudolph as vice president of agriculture in 1986. Today, Minn-Dak has about 490 shareholders and 100,000 acres of beets.

Knudsen has seen some important changes. Significantly, in 1983 the company installed concrete in the piling grounds at Wahpeton at seven outside receiving stations and the factory. In 1993, Minn-Dak instituted electronic record-keeping for deliveries. In 1996, it started a three-year expansion, increasing the size of the factory, the pile grounds and pilers. They added three large cold storage sheds in 1996 and 1997.

In the 2000s, the company took over its "rehaul" fleet — the drivers, trucks and trailers that moves beets from off-site piling stations into the factory. "We are the only sugar beet company in the U.S. that has its own rehaul fleet in its entirety," he said.

Circumstances in the factory extended the slice campaign of the 2017 beet crop to a record length, ending July 5, 2018. Though not initially planned, the slice went a month longer than anyone in the Red River Valley had ever processed beets. Knudsen joked that the co-op had processed beets in every month of the year "and every legal holiday," a feat unlikely to be repeated,

Knudsen received a Distinguished Service Award in 2015 from the Sugarbeet Research and Education Board of Minnesota and North Dakota. He was an officer and board member of the Sugarbeet Research and Education Board of Minnesota and North Dakota, the International Sugarbeet Institute Committee, and the Beet Sugar Development Foundation, and the American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists.

Knudsen declined to speculate on what his plans are for retirement, except that he'll take a year off for "quiet." He said he for sure won't "watch the quotas, the temperatures, the rainfall or the factory slice" of beets at harvest, and won't miss the need to make the "perfect call every day" on harvest and storage conditions. An internal co-op recognition will take place in late May.