Iowa farmer Julius Schaaf has always looked ahead: as a corn grower just starting through the association ranks, as co-chair of Corn 2012, as chairman of the U.S. Grains Council and as a founder of MAIZALL. The council recently recognized Schaaf for 15 years of sharing his forward-thinking during the organization’s 59th annual membership meeting.
Schaaf credits Vic Miler, 2007 USGC chairman and a fellow farmer from Iowa, as an important influence in joining the organization. Equally influential was his participation with the 2004 Grain Export Mission (GEM) to Taiwan, Vietnam and China, which cemented his excitement about overseas markets.
“We saw firsthand the vast demand developing in Asia,” Schaaf says. “I returned from that trip with a real passion for the council’s work. That trip really got me fired up.”
At the time, Taiwan was already a mature market for U.S. corn and was ramping up to use U.S. polylactic acid for corn-based plastic. In Vietnam, he saw a rapidly expanding livestock industry, feed mills and ports, a phenomenon also occurring in China.
“You couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the growth and possibilities in that region at that time,” Schaaf says. “Feed mills were being built right and left. Hogs and chickens were being moved from backyard feeding operations into facilities. You could see opportunity in every direction you looked. I came back to Iowa excited about the opportunities and the staff the council had over there and how they perceived the growth of demand for U.S. feed grains in that region. It was the tipping point for me getting involved.”
Huge potential in Asian market
Schaaf eventually became chair of the Council’s Asia Advisory Team (A-team), which allowed him to stay involved in these markets and learn how the council looks for opportunities in markets large and small throughout the world. That foresight included the development of the global market for distillers dried grain with solubles (DDGS), which Schaaf recalls being a big question when the ethanol industry was in its infancy.
“The council stepped forward as they thought they could move this product overseas, and it could be a great feedstuff,” Schaaf says. “They were right, and with their leadership, the market exploded. And now USGC is doing the same thing for ethanol. USGC has foresight, vision and understanding of how world markets work and shift.”
Schaaf continued his leadership by co-chairing the Corn 2012 initiative in 2008, a corn industry project laying the foundation for a closer working relationship between USGC and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA). He got to know the staff and farmer-leaders from the state corn organizations.
When fellow Iowa corn farmer Pam Johnson was elected into leadership ranks at NCGA, the pair made a plan to help further those close ties through leadership within their own respective organizations.
Brought key groups together
“Pam and I had a good working relationship, and I was following Vic Miller’s footsteps,” Schaaf says. “We felt we could do a lot to bring USGC and NCGA together, and really cement the relationship between the two groups for market development.”
In 2014, Schaaf was elected USGC chairman. He told attendees at the annual meeting: “The world is always changing. Markets are always changing. Today, competition is growing and so are the opportunities. Our job is to figure out how to stay ahead of the changes.”
He and Johnson also worked together to help form MAIZALL, the international maize alliance, to help growers in the U.S., Brazil and Argentina address common problems with non-tariff barriers in global markets, primarily related to biotechnology. “We’re predicting the need for more corn in the future, and the access to this technology is what is going to allow us to do it in a sustainable and safe manner,” Schaaf says. “There’s a strong justification for farmers, in the three countries that export 70% of the corn, to continue to be involved.”
Cultivating ways to improve yields
The farmer’s role in carrying that message is pivotal, especially as science and technology continue to develop new ways to improve crop yields for farmers not just in developed nations, but throughout the world.
“It’s very important that farmers are at the front of what the council does, that farmers go and talk about what they’re doing and make the point about their technology and its safety,” he adds. “It means a lot coming from the people actually dealing with it on a day-to-day basis with their families.”
He adds, “We’re just at the tip of that iceberg. With gene editing and new techniques coming forward, this is going to be change on an exponential scale that’s really going to get us where we need to be as far as production by 2030. When you farm for 40 years like me, that’s not very far away.”
Schaaf continues to look forward to the next 15 years of helping shape the future of the international grain trade as part of the council’s continual effort to use past lessons to achieve success in future markets. “The council doesn’t dwell on the past; they use what they’ve learned and apply that to future demand growth and expansion,” he says. “USGC does a great job of looking forward and seeing how demand is going to shift and how we can be out in the front as a leader.”
Humphreys elected to USGC board
The U.S. Grains Council elected Wayne Humphreys, a farmer from Columbus Junction in southeast Iowa, as a corn sector director during USGC’s recent 59th annual board of delegates meeting. Humphreys is president of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.
“As I take my place on the USGC board, I’m eager to learn and provide insight to help build our global trade markets,” he says. “It’s vital corn farmers have secure markets for corn in every form, especially during these trying times, and my goal is to help secure international markets. The fastest-growing segment for corn demand is the export of ethanol to global markets, and USGC is working to make that happen.”
ICPB Director Duane Aistrope also serves on the USGC board, and Iowa corn farmer Deb Keller has finished her position as past-chair of USGC for 2018-19. She is retiring from the board after serving for many years.
Opportunities for new markets
“I always knew how important markets were, but until I became active with USGC, I wasn’t aware of all the intricacies involved in enabling trade,” Keller says. “I’ve come to appreciate how much the council does for me as a farmer — not only developing markets, but also enabling trade for us as farmers. It truly has been an honor to represent other corn farmers by serving on the USGC board.”
Keller is a past director of ICPB and has served on Iowa Corn’s exports and grain trade committee.
Also, at the recent USGC meeting, the currently difficult ag trade environments in China and elsewhere were discussed. USGC is putting new insight into emerging markets in India and Africa, and is focused on new opportunities for ethanol sales. The council’s delegate body heard from multiple speakers including Scott Sindelar, CEO of Edgewise Trade Advisers and a former USDA Foreign Ag Service official.
“There is a significant role USGC can play in India. India’s leaders are intent to have the country be a leader on the global stage, and changes within the Indian government could help USGC programs build demand and enable change from within,” Sindelar says.