In October, John Linder of Edison was named the new National Corn Growers Association president.
In this new role, he’ll guide the organization in supporting corn growers at all levels, he says, but his focus is to always make the best use of checkoff dollars. “In all decisions, we’re always asking what kind of return this will bring to the farmer, and if it is prudent to make an investment,” he says.
Linder says he has a personal goal, but the board also has top national and legislative goals.
“My personal goal is to help our industry recover and grow,” he says. “To do that, we will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to create opportunities for our industry beyond the current situation.”
Linder plans to further engage stakeholders to forge a recovery plan to get markets back on track. “We need advocacy and a collaborative plan, because we can certainly do more together than we can individually.”
Showcasing the board is also important to Linder. “We need to find ways for growers to have access to the board — to get to know who is working on their behalf nationally,” he adds. “It’s one thing to know the president, but it’s another to know a 15-member board has your back and a premier staff at NCGA looking out for the best interest of our industry. Our work will always begin at the grassroots.”
The industry has gotten some encouraging support from President Donald Trump, with EPA’s final rule calling for 15 billion gallons of conventional ethanol to be used.
In September, Trump applauded allowing existing filling station pumps to distribute higher-ethanol gasoline.
“Subject only to state approval, our important ethanol industry will be allowed to use the 10% pumps for the 15% blend,” Trump tweeted.
Linder says, “It is encouraging to see President Trump’s desire to help the ethanol market move higher blends.”
In 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the sale of a 15% ethanol-gasoline blend known as E15 year-round.
Despite legislative support, Linder says COVID-19 has been more disruptive to market demand than any political agenda, as consumer demand shifted — and nearly disappeared for a period of time — for gasoline and ethanol.
NCGA asked the University of Illinois to do research on the impacts of COVID-19, comparing where the industry is today versus pre-COVID-19. “In 2019, because product was not fully marketed before the pandemic, the impact is estimated at a $59-per-acre reduction in return because of market disruption,” Linder says. “The 2020 outlook is an $89-per-acre loss.”
In line with Linder’s mission is a national objective to boost demand. To do that, the board’s strategic plan not only includes traditional markets — livestock, ethanol and exports — but also includes new uses.
To see the potential, Linder says you have to look no further than the Consider Corn Challenge, which was designed to establish partnerships with America’s corn farmers and industry to establish new uses of corn.
“This challenge continues to highlight the fact that U.S. corn is an extremely flexible feedstock for biobased products,” he says. “With the Consider Corn Challenge, if you took the nine previous winners and brought those ideas to full market use, it would equate to an additional home for 2.9 billion bushels of corn.”
At the legislative level, the board is pushing for higher-octane fuels like mid- and high-level ethanol blends, which benefit drivers, farmers and the environment, Linder says.
“We further support the Next Generation Fuels Act that Rep. Cheri Bustos from Illinois introduced into the U.S. House on Sept. 30,” Linder says.
The act would increase gasoline octane to a minimum standard of 98 research octane number (RON) through low-carbon, renewable fuels, including ethanol.
Still, corn farmers are calling for EPA to stop the small-refinery exemptions, which are viewed as a roadblock to pushing the fuel industry into using more ethanol.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler met with Linder and others at an Ohio farm earlier this year and was scheduled to visit another Ohio farm the second week of October. “I’ve also been on a Zoom call with him,” Linder says.
“I found his dialogue to be engaging, his questions to be on point and open to corn growers, but we are one of many industries he is charged with administrative duties,” he says. “Our goal is to provide the up-to-date information he can use to make good decisions on our behalf.”
In addition to the first Commodity Food Assistance Program, which provided aid to farmers, USDA recently announced an additional $14 billion from CFAP 2 to assist farmers and their customers recover from the continued financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every farmer is thankful that Congress took a good look at what is needed to keep this nation whole as possible moving forward,” Linder says. “The aid for agriculture is really important, especially for livestock farmers and other markets to find support. But with corn, it doesn’t make anyone whole. How growers are going to bridge the gap between profit and loss is a personal decision and difficult to say one shoe fits all. But the common goal is to keep working capital as solid as possible.”
Linder was hesitant to make any predictions on corn yields in Ohio, but did say the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service’s forecast of 172 bushels per acre (8 bushels above last year) is reasonably close. “However, some of the farmers I have spoken to, their own predictions have missed the harvested actual.”
Nationally, the effects of the August derecho are varied, he says. “I’ve heard reports of a farmer harvesting in one direction and getting half the crop had the wind not come through,” he says. “Some were just plowing fields and others were pleasantly surprised, getting nearly their average, but taking four or five times longer to harvest.”
Past Ohio leadership
Here's a look at past Ohio farmers who served as president of the National Corn Growers Association and chairman of the National Corn Development Foundation. Years ago two boards divided the duties, with NCGA doing policy, promotion and market development, and NCDF focusing almost exclusively on research and new uses for corn.
- NCGA president 2002-03
- NCDF chairman 1992-93
- NCGA president 1983-84
- NCDF chairman 1984-85