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Corn+Soybean Digest

Out-Of-The-Box Thinker

Embracing change is what farming is all about for Lynn Jensen, Lake Preston, SD.

As incoming president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), he says his operation wouldn't look like it does without involvement in commodity groups.

"Volunteer organizations are made up of people who like change. You can't help but pick up new ideas from these guys," he says.

Jensen takes the reins as NCGA's president next month, just as the U.S. heads into the genetically modified organism fracas in Europe. World trade tops his list of issues to deal with in the coming year.

But this period in agriculture is an unsettling time of change, and farmers need to be prepared, says Roger Pine, departing NCGA president from Lawrence, KS.

"Lynn is an optimist and realist. He's able to quickly assess situations and issues and isn't at all uncomfortable with making decisions," says Pine. "And right now, with low corn prices, we're only seeing the beginning of changes. We're not done by a long shot."

Even though Jensen is part of a family farming operation, he's the first to admit he runs the 3,600-acre operation in east-central South Dakota like a business. In fact, he literally has a business operation plan based on risk management.

"In order to compete, I try to operate with almost a corporate philosophy," says the NCGA president-elect who helped start Kingsbury County Corn Growers in 1990 and was state president in 1994.

As part of that philosophy, Jensen proudly describes his operation as net-based farming. "I look for anything I can to make money. I disagree that farmers won't sacrifice yield. If you can change my net, yield is secondary," he says.

He incorporates that thought process into every aspect of his operation. For example, last year he planted all Roundup Ready soybeans to help cut down on chemical costs for corn this year.

Jensen also chases any specialty-niche venture that can help his business plan generate profit. Some of those niche crops include white corn, high-oil corn, navy beans and clear-hilum soybeans.

He's dabbled regularly in raising organic soybeans, too, which require three years of being chemical-free. It's been profitable for him, but he claims "it's a frustrating way to farm.

"We certainly don't tell city people that organic isn't all that environmentally friendly, however."

With organic, it takes three to four times the tillage, and there's a 30-40% yield drag, he explains.

"Labor has exceeded our costs of chemical application, but prices have been 2-2 1/2 times more than regular production. So it's been better, but requires more attention. There's no way I could manage this farm with 3,000-4,000 acres of organic."

Jensen loves "being around new ideas and new business concepts" and thinks that will mesh well with his new NCGA responsibilities.

In an effort to help corn growers cooperatively generate more profits, he helped form a pilot project called Producers Renewable Products (PRP). That group helps look at ways to develop new products. In fact, a new line of household cleaning products, called Harvest Bright, is now in 130-150 grocery and hardware stores in the Upper Midwest.

Kevin Lewis, CEO of PRP, says in three to four years Harvest Bright products should have 3-5% share of the household cleaner market. PRP will add to the Harvest Bright line and is also developing roadanti-icing and deicing compounds using a byproduct of ethanol.

"We started the project knowing the products had to be as good or better than other cleaners," Jensen says. "And, they had to be competitively priced. Consumers don't buy just because something is environmentally friendly."

Jensen has also helped organize another spin-off group called Renewable Resource Research Institute. This group consists of what he calls a "council of technology." The group, made up of retired corporate executives and university researchers, is charged with bringing the tremendous amount of research and technology already conducted to the consumer level.

"The council will evaluate existing and pending projects to see if they can be commercialized," he explains. "Alone, these projects may have been too niche-oriented or too small for a Cargill or an ADM to develop.

"I like to explore new ideas. And if I see good ones, I run with them," Jensen says.

He officially takes over the NCGA presidency Oct. 1, 1999.

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