(Posted Fri. Sep 30th, 2011)

SchottSept. 30: On this final day of the 2011 fiscal year, the National Corn Growers Association’s Corn Board readies itself to seat new members and officers on October 1. When the 2011 Executive Committee steps down, NCGA President Bart Schott will assume chairmanship of the Corn Board, and First Vice President Garry Niemeyer will step into the presidency.


The Off the Cob podcast series sat down with Schott today to discuss the highlights of his presidency, his outlook for the coming year, and to ask his advice for farmers considering volunteering for leadership roles.


To listen to the full interview, please click here.


Reflecting upon what he views as the most important achievements made over the past year, Schott first mentions the extremely visible ethanol promotion campaign launched at the Daytona 500 last February.


“The accomplishment that really floats to the top from the past year is the formation of our partnership with NASCAR to promote ethanol,” said Schott. “The switch to an E-15 blend fueling every car in every race has been outstanding in increasing public awareness of higher ethanol blends, and it has been an excellent partnership. NASCAR’s 80 million fans, and their top-notch drivers, have really embraced this new fuel in the race cars.”


In addition to NASCAR, he also notes the importance of the formation of a comprehensive, cooperative group that opens up a sorely needed dialogue between the farmers who grow food and the consumers who purchase it.


“The other accomplishment of which I am the most proud is NCGA’s involvement in the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance,” he said. “This fantastic group has come together in the past year to provide answers from farmers in the food debate. Currently, there are 55 commodity groups participating in the alliance, and it is the first time in ag’s history that we have had so many commodity groups come together to battle the misinformation our detractors provide in answering our consumers questions about food.”


Schott goes on to explain that involvement in USFRA, of which he is secretary, also has helped him to grow personally.


“USFRA has been eye-opening for me as a farmer,” he said. “I know how to grow the crops; I just haven’t been all that good about communicating what I do. Learning to bridge that gap is at the heart of what USFRA is all about.” This appreciation of the ways in which leadership roles help individuals to grow while working cooperatively to improve the industry they love is also evident in his advice to anyone considering volunteering for a leadership position.


“When you have a chance to move into a leadership position just take it and run with it,” said Schott. “The rewards of service are great, especially as NCGA is a top-notch organization with a solid reputation. While it is time away from the farm, you find that the experience of joining with like-minded farmers who have the same concerns and want to work for the industry can be truly rewarding.”


Schott notes that, across the country, many states also have excellent associations with which corn growers can become involved. Thanking his home state’s North Dakota Corn Growers Association for their support, he explains that some of his most rewarding experiences as president occurred during interactions with state groups in Iowa and Missouri.


Finally, he offers his perspective, informed over his years of constant involvement with the issues affecting growers, on what challenges and opportunities will become increasingly important in 2012.


“Looking at next year, the importance of the farm bill cannot be overstated,” said Schott. “Right now, we are seeing other commodity groups come together and put out messages similar to those we have been promoting, such as the inclusion of an ADAP-like program. Simultaneously, we must remain cognizant of our national debt situation. During Corn Congress, our delegates clearly voiced their willingness to play a part in fixing this crisis by accepting proportional cuts. Yet, we also must consider the importance of maintaining a strong safety net for our nation’s growers.”


In speaking about the second challenge he sees for 2012, Schott observes that, while some priorities may initially appear to be easily within reach, farmers must remain vigilant advocates to ensure unforeseen obstacles do not sidetrack progress.


“The second challenge that I see on the horizon is passage of the three pending Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Colombia and Korea,” he said. “The opportunities created and barriers simultaneously eliminated by these agreements benefit not only corn producers but our friends in the livestock industry as well. Early on, I was confident all three agreements would be implemented during my year as President. Yet, on my last day not even one has passed. Sometimes you take for granted that some things will go through, but there are occasionally bumps in the road that you didn’t anticipate.”


Schott concludes by noting that the many legislative and regulatory issues currently hampering the ethanol industry will continue to crop up for years to come and advising farmers it will be necessary to vocally defend this renewable, sustainable, domestically-produced fuel.


“Finally, our leadership will continue having to work through reoccurring ethanol-related issues in Washington for years to come,” said Schott. “It is obvious that VEETC will expire at the end of this calendar year. Now, some in Congress are targeting the Renewable Fuels Standard in the hopes of changing it, possibly even in ways detrimental to corn-based ethanol. I strongly believe that it is time for us to draw a line in the sand. We need to fight to keep the legislation and regulations which are good for corn growers and for the ethanol industry intact and in place.”