Bart Schott is about as proud of becoming the new National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president Oct. 1 as he is of his heritage. His grandfather emigrated from Russia and homesteaded at Kulm, ND, at the farm that Schott now operates with his wife Linsey and three sons, Peter, Andy and Micah.
Besides off-farm jobs, the sons also own land and share equipment and labor with dad on their 4,000 acres of corn, soybeans and spring wheat.
“If you want black ink on the books, I’m convinced you’ve got to grow corn,” Schott says, who stands behind the sustainability practices that NCGA promotes. “In the last 10 years American growers raised more corn on the same number of acres using fewer chemicals. We’ve also increased yields 20% since 2000.”
The two big issues that Schott sees his presidency combating are uncertainty – especially from consumers out East – about food safety and food security.
“We regularly get questions about who is growing our food and is it good enough to eat,” he says. “They also ask if we can trust who is growing our food and will there be enough?”
Schott says that’s why NCGA kicked off an educational and image campaign from the Corn Farmers Coalition to help inform consumers about food issues. The mission is to put a face on today’s high-tech family farmers and to showcase the productivity and environmental advances being made. For example, USDA reports:
- 95% of corn farms are family farms.
- 84% of all farm acreage is managed by family families.
- 78% of all farm sales are from family farms.
The Corn Farmers Coalition launched last June put prominent facts about family farmers in Capitol Hill publications, radio, frequently used websites, the Metro and Reagan National Airport. For details go to: www.cornfarmerscoalition.org.
Third on Schott’s agenda this year will be a focus on infrastructure – railroads and waterways. “We need to get transportation up to speed to take care of our new export demands,” he says. “Right now 27% of the corn crop is exported. China wants to buy more corn but we can’t get it to the coast fast enough to ship out.
“To help, NCGA is working with railroads to encourage them to increase unit trains from 100 to 140 cars, which will help the problem,” he says. “Plus, they’re adding new cars all the time.”
On the waterway system, he’s concerned about how many river barges have rusted out, been removed from service and now need to be replaced. He’ll also work with NCGA to get funding for updating the lock-and-dam system.
On ethanol, he’s disappointed the current administration thinks cellulosic is greener than corn ethanol. “We’re fighting that and the move toward E15,” he says. He is optimistic, however, that within the next two to three years a much-needed ethanol pipeline to the East Coast will be built, followed by one to the West Coast.
Admittedly, his most difficult challenge will be working on the new farm bill. “I thought I’d be the pre-farm bill president, but according to House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN), it’s going to be done on my watch. He wants to have it completed by the end of 2011.
“NCGA is all about ACRE and revenue protection, and not so much about direct payments. Chairman Peterson says direct payments might go away in the new farm bill so he’s pushing the whole farm insurance idea more,” Schott says.
“Bart has had a lot of experience on farm bill and trade agreements,” says Darrin Ihnen, outgoing NCGA president from South Dakota. “So he’ll have strengths going into D.C. and congressional hearings.
“He’s a solid guy and a team player who is good at building consensus on whatever issues surface,” Ihnen says. “The running joke is that we’re called the Dakota twins, but we have a lot of fun with that.”
Schott thinks his humble roots from North Dakota have played well in Washington, D.C. “I testified at a House Ag Committee this past year and that was really inspiring. I expect to be doing more of that this year.”
That wouldn’t happen though, he says, without the support of his wife and sons who are keeping the wheels turning back on the farm.
For a video on Schott’s agenda for the industry, go to: http://tinyurl.com/CSDSchott.