EP. 12 - A Wild Ride: Outgoing NCGA President Kevin Ross on his Eventful Term in Office

October 20, 2020

EP. 12 - A Wild Ride: Outgoing NCGA President Kevin Ross on his Eventful Term in Office

Oct 20, 2020

Key Issues:Farm Policy

The NCGA’s outgoing President Kevin Ross had a term in office unlike any other. From a Twitter battle with the world’s largest beer brewer, to a public speech with President Donald Trump, to the NCGA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, his year at the helm was anything but boring.

 

In this episode, NCGA CEO Jon Doggett asks the Iowa grower to unpack all the highlights from his term and look to the future of the industry. And, in spite of all the uncertainty, Kevin shares his reasons for optimism and a love of farming that's stronger than ever.

 

 

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TRANSCRIPT
 

Kevin Ross:

Having that opportunity to speak to the leader of the free world about what you've got going on in your industry and it did hit me right as I was walking up onto the stage and like you said, you see that seal of the president of the United States on a podium and you're sitting there going, "Hmm, that's kind of a big deal standing behind that thing and give a speech."

 

Dusty Weis:

Hello, and welcome to Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. This is where leaders, growers, and stakeholders in the corn industry can turn for big picture conversations about the state of the industry and its future. I'm Dusty Weis and I'll be introducing your host, association CEO, Jon Doggett. You can join Jon here every month as he travels the country on a mission to advocate for America's corn farmers. From the fields of the Corn Belt to the DC Beltway, we'll make sure that the growers who feed America have a say in the issues that are important to them, with key leaders who are shaping the future of agriculture.

 

Dusty Weis:

In this episode, the NCGA's outgoing board president, Kevin Ross, had a term in office unlike any other. From a Twitter battle with the world's largest beer brewer, to a public speech with President Donald Trump, to the NCGA's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We'll unpack all of these moments from this Iowa grower's year in office and look forward to what's next for Kevin and for the industry. If you haven't yet, make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app, that way you can take us with you in your truck, your tractor or on your next trip and never miss an update from Jon. Also, make sure you follow the NCGA on Twitter, @nationalcorn, and sign up for the National Corn Growers Association newsletter at NCGA.com.

 

Dusty Weis:

And with that, it's time to once again introduce Jon. Jon Doggett, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. Jon, in more than six decades of NCGA history, you'd be hard-pressed to find an NCGA president who's had a more interesting tenure than our guest today, outgoing president, Kevin Ross.

 

Jon Doggett:

Dusty, that's right. You think about what has happened to not only NCGA and the corn industry, but to our country in the last year or so and that has been amazing. We were very fortunate to have Kevin Ross, a farmer from Western Iowa, heading our organization during that time. He certainly has stepped up even before he was president. Some interesting opportunities to be out front. He was a subplot during the Super Bowl a couple years ago. He stood up on a stage with President Trump and turned around and urged him to do some things on SNL and was pretty forceful and, hopefully, pretty effective in doing so. That was all before he became president. And then after he became president a few months later, COVID hit. So here we are, Kevin still managed to get to the White House a couple times for passage of some really important policy priorities for NCGA.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, Kevin, welcome. Thank you for all that you have done. You are now chairman of the National Corn Growers Association. You're still very, very involved, but you're looking back on a really interesting couple years.

 

Kevin Ross:

Yeah, it's been pretty amazing for just a farm kid from Southwest Iowa to see what the broader ag world can hold and the impacts he can have on it in different ways. So it's been a lot of fun and an absolute privilege to do that for my fellow growers. But yeah, to say the least, it's been a very interesting last couple years and it's going to be even more interesting next few, I'm sure, but you never know what's around the corner.

 

Jon Doggett:

So before we get into some of the things that have happened these last couple years, let's talk a little bit about Kevin. Certainly, you are the epitome of that old saying, behind every successful man is a very surprised woman. You are married to Sarah, who we all know it-

 

Kevin Ross:

I thought you're going to say behind a very sexy man. I was really going to wonder where this podcast was going, Jon.

 

Jon Doggett:

Kevin, no, that's another guest. That's the one next month, Kevin. I'm sorry.

 

Kevin Ross:

We've gone off the rails already, guys.

 

Dusty Weis:

In record time even. That's great.

 

Kevin Ross:

It's amazing. I don't know this happens to me.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, Kevin, tell us about your family. Tell us about your farm. Tell us about your community.

 

Kevin Ross:

Yeah. Appreciate that question, first of all. I like to talk about my hometown, something that we don't get a chance to do very often. But from Southwest Iowa, a little town called Underwood. My address is Minden, but I claim all of Southwest Iowa in general. It's just home for me and I know a lot of the backroads down here better than most folks, so I got buddies that would call me Rand McNally because I could take them down every gravel road in Southwest Iowa and know where I was at.

 

Kevin Ross:

We farm right near Interstate 80. The farm I grew up on is right along Interstate 80. We got four little boys that are here on the farm with us. Wife, Sarah, and Hudson, Axten, Carver and Hollis. Certainly a lot of fun. I'm a sixth generation on the farm I live on, my mom's side of the family, and the farm I grew up on I was the fifth generation. So, actually, a unique fact that I'm probably one of very few people in the US that actually live next door and both have their sets of grandparents for an extended period of time. So I think that's a neat deal and certainly was pretty awesome to be able to be that close to both your sets of grandparents growing up.

 

Dusty Weis:

Six generations on the same farm. That's an impressive stretch. When did your family settle in that part of Iowa?

 

Kevin Ross:

Late 1800s, settled in Council Bluffs, one side of my family did anyway, and actually owned a brewery in Council Bluffs. So I come by my love of beer, honestly. Yeah, owned a brewery there and actually, the side of that brewery in Council Bluffs is now Mercy Hospital and that's where one of the two large hospitals in Council Bluffs, Iowa sits now. It's got a neat piece of history here, local history for us too.

 

Dusty Weis:

Very cool.

 

Jon Doggett:

That is cool. So, Kevin, remind us again, how old are the boys?

 

Kevin Ross:

Ten, almost eight, and the twins just turned five here last week. Unbelievable were Time flies. That blows me away that those little turbs are five already.

 

Jon Doggett:

It amazes me too because I remember when they were just born. Kevin, tell us, what do you love about farming? I know you love farming. I know you love the corn industry. But what do you love about farming?

 

Kevin Ross:

Man, lots of different things. Maybe I like to be frustrated. I don't know. There's a lot of different things about agriculture, especially on the farm here, that are challenging. And I think it's just probably those challenges that make it enjoyable because the victories, the small victories that you have throughout many different times of the day and certainly throughout the year, different things like that. But I think for me, a lot of it's about being able to do so many different things with the farm. Obviously, corn, soybeans, cattle for us. I'm not somebody who's a routine guy and you guys would all know that pretty well. It just doesn't work for me.

 

Kevin Ross:

So having those differences, I think, in what I get a chance to do and the variety is probably one of the things that really appeals to me, I just really enjoy agriculture in general. It's fascinating to me how we grow food, and how we raise animals, and really the processes that go through that. I mean, if I get a chance to go to different farms to the different places where people grow other crops, I truly am intrigued as to what types of things that they're able to do and have to do to grow different vegetables or different grains. I don't know, it's something that's always been in my blood I find interesting and certainly enjoy, like I said, the hard work and the satisfaction that comes from building something of your own too I think is a lot of it too.

 

Jon Doggett:

Kevin, you've been involved in corn growers for quite a while. Walk us through how did you get started, where did you get started, what did you do, and what led you to finally deciding to run to be an officer for the National Corn Growers Association?

 

Dusty Weis:

I think what he's asking you, Kevin, is looking at the workload that you already had on your plate, what made you look at that and say, "You know what, I want to do a little more work"?

 

Jon Doggett:

There you go.

 

Kevin Ross:

In a lot of ways, I don't view it as work. To me, it's having an impact and it certainly does take time. But similar to the way I view my job here on the farm, if you really like what you do, then it's not work even though it may consume ungodly amounts of time. But corn growers, I had a cousin that got me involved at the Iowa level. He was going to be president of Iowa Corn, my cousin David Sieck. Dave is a farmer from South of Council Bluffs. He called me up and said, "Hey, I'm going to be president of Iowa Corn Growers this year. You're going to be a member, I'm going to put you on a committee," and this was right after college for me. I've been farming for a while throughout college, driving back and forth and farming my own ground back here. So I did have some knowledge of corn-growing already and certainly been around it my whole life, but got involved into Iowa and just enjoy the impacts that you can have.

 

Kevin Ross:

I think it's an organization that really, truly focuses from the ground up and has the ideas and the ability to influence policy from the farmer themselves and talking about the issues that an organization like NCGA or, in that case, Iowa Corn Growers can help influence and help fix for growers across the country. For me, that was an enjoyable experience to be able to do that. But after I got involved further with it, I got to see on the inside of these associations the real reach. I wish more people could see that because the amount of people that A, that we're speaking on behalf of, but B, the people that we're speaking to on behalf of them, it's really such a broad diverse group of people, and it's really the entire country, and the entire world in so many cases.

 

Kevin Ross:

It's a big job and that's why you want to elect really good people to represent you. I certainly hope that people can walk away and hopefully point at me and say that I was one of those people that they wanted in that position. But it's just an absolutely fantastic opportunity and I wish more people could understand and, hopefully, I can convey those messages to them about what these organizations are really, how broad they really are because it's so tough to see from... we do a great job of communicating, but even at the president of the National Association, there's just so many things going on that you got to have a lot of people working and a lot of things move on because you're talking on behalf of the entire industry. That's just such a neat thing. I don't know. That type of involvement for me was something that just jumped out and said, "Hey, you can have an impact here and other folks along with them." We've been able to do some really good things in National Corn and Iowa Corn too.

 

Dusty Weis:

All right, Kevin, so you've been involved for quite a while and you ran for the board some years ago. Why did you decide to run for the board and what did you want to do when you got on the board?

 

Kevin Ross:

The opportunity to get on to the National Corn board, I think is, first of all, you have to be voted on there. And so taking the chance and the moment to give a speech in front of a whole lot of delegates, it's a little daunting when you're talking about a whole lot of great leaders across America that are sitting in there as delegates from different states. But I really thought that I could have an impact on the board and there's a lot of great leaders on that board that you'd like to learn from, and spend time with, and try to move an industry forward.

 

Kevin Ross:

That's really what it came down to me. I felt like I could have some good discussions and impact with the group that was there. And certainly, as I grew into that role and got comfortable on the board, I was able to transfer into the leadership type roles and then help build the board behind me. It's really a privilege to do that but also a chance to really help develop other people's leadership skill sets too and that's, for me, something that I really enjoyed and enjoy trying to draw the ideas out of people in a boardroom and moving the association forward.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, Kevin, what are the two, three, four things that stand out to you the most, the memories you're going to have years and years from now, your time as an officer at NCGA?

 

Kevin Ross:

Well, most people forget things in their later years, Jon, so I don't know. I tell you what, there's a lot of things in this last year that were memorable experiences and certainly, when you get Pete Coors delivering you a truckload of beer, that was pretty awesome. I don't think that happens every day. I look back at speaking with the president or at the podium, with the presidential seal in front of it, that's an experience that very few people have the chance to do and, actually, not just the experience of giving the speech but actually writing that speech was probably one of the more fun things I've ever had the opportunity to take on and a challenge. Thinking about a lot of different ways to represent agriculture when writing that. So that was actually probably one of the most memorable things that I've ever done. Just having the chance to go to the White House a few different times and see some trade agreements signed.

 

Kevin Ross:

But in all honesty, some of the best memories that I'll have are just of grower interactions where I've had a chance to go to different states, and different state associations, and some of their meetings as well as our own Commodity Classic, and Corn Congress, and different things like that, where I have a chance to hear directly from grower members and people from all across the US about the issues that we want to address at NCGA.

 

Dusty Weis:

Kevin, you and I first met about 10 months ago when we were first launching this podcast and at the time, Neil Caskey, vice-president of communications for the National Corn Growers Association, says to me, "You're going to meet Kevin when we record this episode of the podcast and so I want you to study up on him. Here, go watch this video of him appearing on stage with President Trump." And I watched it and I went, "Holy cow, this guy's not afraid to give his piece of mind to anybody." What was it like for you sitting in a hotel room with your family, getting ready to meet the president, and knowing that you were going to say some things and advocate pretty hard on behalf of the corn industry with the leader of the Free World?

 

Kevin Ross:

I was zoned out and in my own little area right there trying to-

 

Dusty Weis:

You just blacked out?

 

Kevin Ross:

Exactly. Trying to go over a speech and that thing wasn't really finalized until, I think, it's about 7:30 that morning and right before meeting, we had board meeting that day, and before we went down to the SIRE Ethanol Plant south of Council Bluffs. It was one of those things you don't get a whole lot of sleep at night before because you're running through this thing in your head. It was an experience where you knew you had a lot of folks to represent, held close to my home community. So there was a lot of local folks there as well as a lot of national media and other people that were there and so many people that were passionate about agriculture, and ethanol, and corn and it was just such a unique opportunity.

 

Kevin Ross:

In a lot of ways, you felt like, at least I felt like, there's a pretty big weight on your shoulders when you're having that opportunity to take a few moments and speak to, like you said, the leader of the Free World about what you've got going on in your industry. It was not just him that you're speaking to because you're live on broadcast and I don't know how many people watched it, but certainly it was in the hundreds of thousands or millions. I don't know how many watch a normal presidential speech, but it was a pretty big moment for agriculture, anyway.

 

Kevin Ross:

It did hit me right as I was walking up onto the stage and, like you said, you see that seal of the president of the United States on a podium and you're sitting there going, "Hmm, that's kind of a big deal to stand behind that thing and give a speech." But really, up until that point, I was writing it and, like I said, zoned out, making sure you're getting all the right things in the speech.

 

Neil Caskey:

I got a follow-up to that question, as well.

 

Dusty Weis:

Neil Caskey, vice-president of communications for the National Corn Growers Association, joins us as well.

 

Neil Caskey:

I was in the back of the podium and I remember looking at, I saw your family was just right front and center. So they lived that experience with you. What did they say to you when you were done? What did they say? I'm just curious what their experience was like through it.

 

Kevin Ross:

It was neat because I did ask if we could end up getting my boys back there to meet the president. I thought for a longest time... well, I shouldn't say the longest time because we only knew about this whole deal about a week ahead of time and it was really only a couple days beforehand that I realized they were serious that they wanted me to speak. I thought they were joking the whole time. Anyway. So we ended up asking, I thought, "Shoot, it's an opportunity and to have them meet the president," and what I said to our staff and you, guys, if your call was that if there was any second or reason that you thought it would take away from the messages that I had to give from NCGA standpoint, I wasn't going to do it. But that was not the case and you guys assured me of that.

 

Kevin Ross:

But I was able to bring my older two boys back there to see and meet the president and certainly, for them, what an awesome experience. The twins were only about, I don't know, three and a half or something at the time, so they wouldn't have really understood by any means. But yeah, they were sitting out in the crowd with the governor and I have pictures with the twins being held by the governor of Iowa, who's a good friend of mine and a fantastic governor. Such a neat day, from a family aspect too, because they had opportunities to see that moment. Hopefully, it's something that they take themselves and don't get nervous about public speaking and things like that because they've seen me do it in different ways that a lot of people don't get a chance to experience.

 

Kevin Ross:

It was something else. It really was because I had a lot of friends in the crowd too, a lot of people that I knew from the area or from long ways away that even driven in. I think it opened the eyes of my parents a little bit to like, "Wow, he actually does do a lot of stuff or actually does do something for agriculture." I don't know. It was pretty neat to see, I think, my mom's reaction. They do a lot of things for me on the farm when I'm gone and you could tell the pretty proud moments for them. So that was something pretty neat when you know you made your parents happy for once. I'm usually on the other end of that.

 

Dusty Weis:

Hopefully, it made all worthwhile for them.

 

Jon Doggett:

How many teenage car accidents did that overcome?

 

Kevin Ross:

Oh, that was a couple. That was a couple. There's a truck that got rolled over.

 

Dusty Weis:

Oh, geez. Jon, you're a guy that spent a lot of time around Washington. You've met presidents, senators, members of congress. How many folks do you know that would have had the presence of mind and the guts to get up on a stage with the president and give the speech that Kevin gave, but then turn around and advocate with a very, very strong voice on behalf of the corn and ethanol industry like he did?

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, two things. I've been around farmers and ranchers most of my career. This is my third ag trade association I've worked for, worked with the-

 

Kevin Ross:

The best one. This is the best one.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, the one that's kept me around longest is Kevin, so there is some benefit to that. The rest to me was not so good. But I would say one of the things that is so interesting to me watching people run for office in these trade associations is they have to stand up in front of their peers to get elected to the board at NCGA. You have to stand in front of about 130 of your peers and give a two-minute speech and have folks decide whether they want you to be elected or not and then the board has to elect you to become an officer. So you already have stepped up. But when you have to step up on the stage with the president United States and not only give your spiel and make your point, but Kevin needed to turn around and say to the president rather emphatically, "We've got a problem here and you're the guy that can fix it. We need you to fix it."

 

Jon Doggett:

I wouldn't call it chutzpah, but I certainly would say having the presence of mind, and the courage, and the confidence, and the ability to articulate that. We had the right guy on the right stage in the right place at the right time when Kevin had that conversation with the president in front of a whole bunch of people.

 

Neil Caskey:

So within a span of six months, four months, Kevin was a subplot of Super Bowl mentioned on Good Morning America, The Today Show, among many others. Then just a handful of months later, he's on stage with the president in front of the entire world. I mean, that doesn't happen to too many people. When you just think about that, what comes to mind?

 

Kevin Ross:

I don't know. Just another day in the life. No, it is interesting. I don't know. I find myself in amazing positions and opportunities and those were certainly two completely unique ones that I don't know if somebody will have the opportunity to NCGA to do something like that again, I hope so. I certainly do. I think there's a lot of things that just happened to fall into place like I said, with that one in Colorado where we just happened to be in meetings the next day out there in Denver and that was a big change, those types of things. I don't know if some things are just meant to be or what, but it certainly provided opportunity that we could leverage and we could put us out there. We took some shots, I think, swung the bat a little bit and hit a little hard on some things. But it's really put us in a new position as an organization in some ways and we got to keep swinging.

 

Dusty Weis:

There's a show that's popular right now and it's at least probably well known to all of our kids, a show called Hamilton, and they make a big deal about being in the room where it happened. Jon and Kevin, over the past couple of years, and certainly coinciding with Kevin's tenure here, the NCGA has spent a lot of time in the room where it happened. What does that mean for the organization's ability to advocate on behalf of its members?

 

Jon Doggett:

What it means is that you have an opportunity to articulate the need that your growers have to have fulfilled, and it gives you an opportunity to explain why, and it gives you an opportunity to explain that it is good not only for corn farmers and rural communities, but it's good for our nation. You can't do that from outside the tent. You need to be in the tent or in the room because if you're not, there's not much reason for you to be around at all.

 

Kevin Ross:

I think that's a really good point, Jon, about giving you the opportunity. I mean, you're not going to get everything you want, but you have to be able to have that chance to talk about it and talk about the needs of the industry. We talked about other things that have happened, but one of the best meetings that I had as president was with the head of US Trade and Bob Lighthizer. That was a fascinating chance and a great conversation about trade and the needs of the corn industry and at the time, we were talking about China and issues there, but the conversation expanded well into other countries and other places that we needed access to and I think that, from my experience, was one of the best meetings that I think I've been in from a high-level aspect and I think we conveyed those messages again very, very well in that meeting and I actually was very impressed with certainly the people that we have representing us in those positions as well. But they heard it, we were in the room, and then that's what you're asked for is those types of opportunities.

 

Jon Doggett:

I think that the other thing, when we look at being in the room and what you need articulate for your membership, the biggest lift is getting in the room and it's having the political capital, it's having the gravitas, it's having the reputation that you need to be in the room. Then when you get in the room, it's easier, but it's getting into that room and that that is what lobbyists, and trade associations, and trade association leaders do all the time, is making sure you're in a position that when the time comes that you will be there to do the things that the folks back home are counting on you to get done.

 

Jon Doggett:

Kevin, a couple months ago, we put together an effort that you're chairing about short-term demand for the corn industry. Tell us about that.

 

Kevin Ross:

So we're working on it's basically a strategy to move the corn industry forward short-term to try to evaluate the current markets that we have and then how can we beef up those markets that are there. We're not looking to necessarily create another 15 billion bushels of demand and double the corn market. It's about how do we best serve the markets that we have and really create incremental demand through that because we've had some rough times here recently in prices and I don't want to ever say luckily because of a bad weather event, but the derecho that rolled through Iowa certainly caused some major demand concerns there as well as we've seen in a lot of trade. Things pop up and now prices are in a lot better spot than they were even when we started that effort.

 

Kevin Ross:

But the effort is still very, very valid and the crew that we hired aimpoint to help us serve this need and work on our demand plan, if you will, I think is good effort in general because you're going to evaluate what we have in place, the markets that we're already serving, and then how do we utilize those folks that are in those industries to help us help them in some ways in order to build demand for corn.

 

Kevin Ross:

I think we're going to learn a lot about our current state of the industry throughout this process and then also be able to then move forward and say, "Okay, what are the next opportunities? What's the long-term ones that we will learn more about the long-term opportunities," which we certainly focus on a lot, but the short-term opportunities, and how do we quickly chew through a large, large carryout to corn because we were staring at what was potentially going to be a three billion bushel carryout, and that's a lot of corn that was going to put a lot of pressure on prices here in the US. So we felt the need to do something and credit our staff and our board for having that insight to say, "Hey, let's take on this type of project and let's see what we can do and in a different way to move the industry in the right direction."

 

Jon Doggett:

Kevin, given your boundless energy, we get done with this aimpoint project and we're hoping to have the report rolled out in December. That still leaves you 10 months of being a chairman of this organization. So what do you want to get done in that 10 months after you get this other problem solved?

 

Kevin Ross:

Well, I hope we've got a lot of things pointed in the right direction with the Aimpoint plan, first of all, and I've identified some really key areas that we can improve on and help our partners across the industries that use corn. So those are key things from that aspect. But it's also helping build the relationships for the next guys coming in, the next president, John Linder, and the next first vice-president, Chris Edgington, and the rest of the board. I've had, again, an opportunity to very quickly build some key relationships and some high spots in USDA, as well as other places across industries that we touched, as well as government, but helping those guys build their relationships with people and any introductions I can make to ease the transition and keep NCGA at the top of their game. That's certainly some of the biggest goals I have because this organization represents me every day too and if I can help the folks that are coming in to the next spot, that's part of my job as chairman.

 

Jon Doggett:

One of the things I hate to do is look back and dig up regrets. But I do know there is a regret that you have about your tenure as an officer, one that we haven't completely abandoned yet, we hope happens next summer. That revolves around baseball. Can you explain to corn farmers that might be listening to this podcast, why should their organization be involved in a baseball game?

 

Kevin Ross:

Well, to me, it's a no-brainer. This is a game that's held in the middle of a cornfield based on the movie Field of Dreams. I might be slightly partial because it is held in the State of Iowa, but first of all, that movie is one that's iconic for so many people and the subplots of that movie being if you build it, they will come, and talking about dreams in general, and building a farm legacy and different things like that. There's so many pieces that I think people relate to well in that movie. Certainly it's a generational thing in some ways, but when that comes back here next year and that game actually happens, I think you'll see a new generation of kids that happen to see that movie for the first time, which will be a neat deal.

 

Kevin Ross:

But for us, what an opportunity. What an opportunity to talk about the messages of corn and the broad impacts that it has, like you talked earlier about how important the crop is in general to the world economy not just the economy of our state or my state here but the nation as well. How do we take an opportunity like that and really show people what's out there from a corn standpoint? Really highlight a lot of the things that corn farmers are doing from either sustainability practices or just uses of corn. I'm not sure what all directions we're going to take this thing, but you can't beat this opportunity from national stage and having the chance to reach so many people, even just some impacts about talking about farmer image and knowing what we do. You got to take advantage of this one. This is America's pastime meeting up with America's crop and it's a big deal for corn, I think.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, and hopefully, people won't mistake you for Kevin Costner, but we-

 

Kevin Ross:

It's happened a couple times.

 

Jon Doggett:

Yeah. So, Kevin, in 10 months, you will be free at last. What's next for Kevin Ross? Because I cannot imagine that Minden, Iowa is going to be seeing you all the time. What's next on your list?

 

Kevin Ross:

I don't know. I certainly have absolutely enjoyed every second of the time I've spent with the organization and will enjoy and work over the next 10 months as well. I've always not tried to look past to the job at hand and make sure that we're doing the job that needs to be done in the position that I'm in. First comes first with that. But yeah, there's a part of me that wonders what's next. I couldn't tell you. There's a lot of things that, again, I enjoy about agriculture and having the chance to meet so many different people that are passionate about their job in their industry. So, we'll see.

 

Kevin Ross:

I certainly feel like I've got a lot of things to hopefully give and also to learn. To learn more about the ways that we impact the world in what we do every day and what farmers do. So, we'll see. I don't I don't rule anything out. I think that scares my family, but it's one of those things that I welcome different opportunities. I love the farm, love what we do here and if that means I'm here more often, that's fantastic too, but we'll see what comes next. I'm not ruling anything out yet.

 

Jon Doggett:

Okay. So, Kevin Ross, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, what would you say to your fellow corn growers that you haven't talked to personally? What would you say to them about the state of their industry, and the state of their organization, and things that they ought to be doing to help both of those things?

 

Kevin Ross:

That's a good question. I think there's a lot of ways that farmers can continue to work in their industry. But first of all, I'd say thank you to them in general for the ones that are members and the folks that aren't. We'd certainly like to have them as members and for everybody that's paying their check off out there because those dollars are invested. I think those are things that people need to know and understand and we do a good job of trying to communicate that stuff. But we also need we need the farmers out there to understand and take the time to learn about what their investments are doing in those areas.

 

Kevin Ross:

But to me, us moving the organization forward is really, really a big deal for how we represent farmers in the future and how we think about what's next on the horizon for the industry. But the industry is in good shape. The corn industry demand worldwide is growing at record levels, but there are threats out there to production, agriculture, and the corn industry. There's threats that we deal with every day, some the membership hears about and some that they don't because either we get it squashed beforehand or there's long-term threats that people just don't understand without being at some of these levels. But I think we've got a lot of competition that's coming in and there's competition from foreign countries like Brazil that is expanding production every day. So you have to look at different farm policies that'll help people in the future that take into account a lot of different things. Then we've got threats from a production standpoint that you got to look at.

 

Kevin Ross:

But in general, as an industry, corn demand is high. It's a great industry to be in. We've just got a lot of challenges that we're going to be dealing with in the next number of years. The job is never done for an association like NCGA because there are things that are always popping up that you've got to address and you got to work on. We may not solve every issue in short-term, but you got to work on them. You got to be part of those conversations and take those opportunities that we talked about earlier to insert influence and push the envelope for an industry.

 

Jon Doggett:

Kevin, when you became president of NCGA October 1, 2019, did you know what the following two words were, COVID and Zoom?

 

Kevin Ross:

That's a good question, Jon. I knew what Zoom was. We've done a few of those. But I could do without hearing that word ever again if I had the chance. I think most people are sick of online by now and maybe some people really love it, but it's not the same as being in-person. What was that other word again, Jon?

 

Jon Doggett:

C-O-V-I-D, I think.

 

Kevin Ross:

Yeah. So, COVID... I was hoping you're going to say corona because I didn't know what that word was, but it was not what you're thinking. Anyway, COVID, certainly we didn't have any clue there at that time what was going to happen. Wow, what a difference in a year, what's changed in our entire world. I don't think there's no one out there that could've predicted this to the levels that have changed. Yeah, maybe somebody will take claim to it, but this has changed the world we live in from a lot of different ways and not just here in the US, it was certainly worldwide.

 

Kevin Ross:

That presented a lot of different challenges from an organizational standpoint and certainly from an industry standpoint and economy. But we dealt with them. We move forward. We did a lot of Zoom meetings and we've changed the way we had to do business there and had to even work within our own government. It changed certainly a travel schedule that was jam-packed and, all of a sudden, almost overnight flips on its head and throughout the summer really until mid-July, it was pretty well shut down and what a change that we've made.

 

Kevin Ross:

I was asked this the other day by a grower. I believe that's a grower in North Carolina that asked me something about what was my biggest disappointment or discouragement. I'm not sure how they worded the question, I can't recall. But one of the things that I said was it was, for me, one of the spots that I know I have better talents in is being able to have that face to face meeting and build a quick rapport or relationship with folks either in the federal government or whatever meeting random, and just not having that opportunity and being able to do that in this position, that to me was probably the most disappointing thing that I couldn't utilize those opportunities in the best way to leverage them for NCGA.

 

Kevin Ross:

It just it basically cut out a number of months where we just couldn't have those meetings. Anyway, I'm glad we've gotten back to a lot of them. They're not the same and we're certainly, again, dealing with challenges with masks, and still Zoom, and still social or now, social distance. That's another set of words I never thought I would put together. Social distance, that meant reaching across the bar in cheersing somebody before. Now, it's six feet apart and I don't think it's social at all. But these things, again, they turned an industry on its head as well and it wasn't just ours and they've got a lot of them that are flipped around.

 

Kevin Ross:

It was the animal ag industry, our partners, there is pretty much all other folks that are out there, the travel industry, especially. Man, when I've traveled here recently, it's just unbelievable and certainly no fun anymore. It wasn't exactly a blast before, but now, it's just different. What a difference a few months makes, but hey, we're moving on. We hope we can handle these things in a healthy way and keep people safe. But we have business to conduct as an organization and people that we represent and that didn't stop when COVID hit and we certainly didn't hit the pause button on anything. We just had to reroute a little bit and do some things a little bit different.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well as the CEO of the National Corn Growers, I have to say, as COVID hit and the realization came over all of us that life had changed significantly and that we would be doing things a lot differently. I had concerns, we all had concerns. But I have to say I have to give a lot of credit to the staff, the management team, and certainly a lot of credit to the board and the officers, and, in particular, you, Kevin. We've not missed much of a beat any place and we have adapted. We've been innovative. Yet it's interesting to see farmers who are so innovative on their farm becoming innovative with virtual meetings and in those kinds of things and it has proven to me that this organization has resiliency. It has a culture of innovation, of leadership and that has been one of the things that, despite all of the problems we've had this year, has been absolutely outstanding.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, Kevin, thank you so much for everything that you have done for this organization. Thank you for what you've done for industry. Thank you for the trust you've put in me. I appreciate that. You and I have become good friends and like good friends, occasionally, we've had a few arguments. That's all been good. But thank you so much for your leadership. You've been a great president. So far, as chairman, you're doing a pretty good job and I anticipate that you'll probably continue to do that. Yeah, we'll see.

 

Kevin Ross:

We're nine days in. I wouldn't pass judgment too quick on that.

 

Jon Doggett:

It's been the best nine days of your generation, I'll say that.

 

Kevin Ross:

I appreciate that. This time of year. we're into harvest and it's the time of year where my phone... you guys and staff try to back off on phone calls a little bit, so that's appreciated. But now, as chairman, the phone has gotten a little bit lighter too. Again, I really appreciate those comments and absolutely echo, from my perspective, it was a great year as president regardless of the issues that we dealt with from COVID or from other challenges that came up from an industry standpoint. We took them on head on, we took them on together with staff, and board, and our grower membership alike and said, "Hey, here's what we're dealing with." We listened, we learned, and yeah, we've adapted. I tell you, it's shocking to me how quickly we did really turn things on its head and we're able to move forward. It wasn't easy and you guys know far better than I from an internal standpoint and how many things had to change.

 

Kevin Ross:

But again, I really didn't feel like we lost anything either along the way. We were able to connect with the people we needed to connect with. Phones are amazing things and certainly Zoom, regardless of my long term thoughts about Zoom, it has been a great blessing in technology to be able to deal with social distance or the coronavirus issues or all the challenges and travel that we had to do. It's helped us stay on our game and we're going to keep doing it. As chairman, I'll hopefully be able to advise or sit back and I told somebody there that I was the old wise owl in the corner now, but I don't know if I'm any wiser or not. Stop, stop. That's a bad joke. But anyway, it's been great. Appreciate those comments and looking forward to future years of seeing what NCGA does on my behalf as a grower and I'm looking forward to a good year as chairman too.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, thank you, Kevin Ross, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association, farmer from Minden, Iowa. I'm Jon Doggett, the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association. We appreciate you being on and this has been Wherever Jon May Roam brought to you by NCGA.

 

Dusty Weis:

That is going to wrap up this edition of Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. New episodes arrive monthly, so make sure you subscribe in your favorite podcast app and join us again soon. Visit NCGA.com to learn more or sign up for the association's email newsletter, Wherever Jon May Roam is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association and produced by Podcamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses, podcampmedia.com. For the National Corn Growers Association, thanks for listening, I'm Dusty Weis.