EP. 26 - Ringing in the "New Year" with NCGA's Incoming President Chris Edgington

October 27, 2021

EP. 26 - Ringing in the "New Year" with NCGA's Incoming President Chris Edgington

Oct 27, 2021

It may not be January 1, but there’s a new president at NCGA, and we’re getting to know him better.

 

With harvest season winding down, NCGA members are observing another fall milestone—the induction of a new NCGA president, Chris Edgington.

 

Administratively speaking, NCGA’s “new year” began on October 1.

 

And, hailing from St. Ansgar, Iowa, Chris has been sworn in to lead the organization in the year ahead.

 

So in this episode, we’re going to get to know him a little bit better… his operation, what drives him to lead, and what he sees as the biggest hurdles that growers face in the year ahead.

 

 

 

Transcript
 

Chris Edgington:

Those of us in agriculture, we need a team. We need people that are working on this daily because we can produce a lot of products in the U.S. that we cannot consume here. So we need a team promoting them.

 

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, John Doggett. From the fields of the Corn Belt to the DC Beltway, we're making 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:

With harvest season winding down, NCGA members are observing another fall milestone, the induction of a new NCGA president, Iowa grower Chris Edgington. He's been sworn in to lead the organization in the year ahead. And so in this episode, we're going to get to know him a little bit better, his operation, what drives him to lead, and what he sees as the biggest hurdles that growers face in the year ahead. But if you haven't yet, make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app. 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. And Jon, might still be early in the fall, but understand that we're celebrating new year's already on today's episode.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, it isn't Chinese New Year's, it's NCGA new year's. And we begin our new year at NCGA October 1st, so already for us it's 2022. And what some folks say, that's how we stay ahead of things in this organization. So with the new year comes a new president. And October 1, 2021, Chris Edgington of St. Ansgar, Iowa became our new president, and he's going to lead us over the next 12 months. So Chris, happy new year, congratulations on your new job, and welcome to Wherever Jon May Roam.

 

Chris Edgington:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

 

Jon Doggett:

Chris, tell us about your family. Tell us about your farm. Tell us about where is St. Ansgar, Iowa.

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, let's start with that. First, it's far North Central, Iowa, about halfway between Des Moines and Minneapolis, not all too far from Interstate 35 or Interstate 90. So it's actually fairly easy to find. And we're part of a multi-generation farm that will probably be rolling in here and hopefully not disrupting this. But I still farm, fortunate to farm with my dad, my brother, a son, some nieces. We have a lot of family members. It is definitely a family-driven business and sometimes that brings some interesting dynamics and discussions as we work on our game plans. But definitely a family farm and really enjoy being part of it.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, we're recording this on the 21st of October. Where are you with harvest as of today?

 

Chris Edgington:

We're about two-thirds done with corn. Actually, it's been really dry for us. We get some drizzle events, a little bit of what's going on right now this morning here, but we have not had any big rains this fall. It was kind of the pattern for the summer where we missed a lot of stuff. But you don't have to go too far away to the east and they're using chains and cables to pull people out as they're getting stuck in the field. So I'm unfortunate that we're able to keep going and we are past the halfway point. And soybeans are not quite wrapped up. We've still got one field to finish, but that one needs a little bit more time.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, I'm going to ask you a question, and I think throughout the year you may ask yourself this question and others may ask you this question in various ways, but why did you want this job?

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, I guess it depends on a), do you look at the year I'm going to do as a job or as an opportunity. And I've been involved in commodity organizations or value-added opportunities and other businesses throughout my career trying to help build small-town America, trying to be part of revitalizing rural economies and family farms, family operations, small-town businesses. And so this has kind of just been a natural progression for me to continue to raise my hand. As a good friend of mine has said, you raise your hand until it hurts and then raise it a little bit more. And I've kind of continued to do that along with having the full support of the family as they also are engaged in other opportunities to help with their small-town areas. So it's not so much I would say it's a job, it's an opportunity to continue to build on what I've been doing and provide value back to small-town America.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know, Chris, one of the most fascinating things for me as I've gotten to know the Corn Growers better as an organization in the course of doing this podcast, just meeting all the different growers from all around the country and hearing how they've all got different stories to tell in some ways and a lot of other ways they've got stories that are very, very similar. And so as you've gotten engaged with the Corn Growers and begun to build these relationships with farmers from across the country, what's the thing that sticks out the most at you about the stories that you're hearing the people tell about what's going on in their fields?

 

Chris Edgington:

Yeah. They're very similar. It doesn't matter if you farm in Texas or North Dakota or California or Maryland, the farming challenges are similar. We're all worried about production. We're all worried about price. We're all worried about input. But that's not just in the U.S. I've been fortunate to travel a little bit internationally, and if you sit down with a group of farmers in Vietnam or China or South America, the discussion's the same. It's about how do you produce more more efficiently with less input and less cost so that you can try to maintain some level of profitability.

 

Chris Edgington:

And as people say, farmers are the only group that when they get done at the end of the day and they go uptown, they still talk about farming. Sometimes that's really good. And sometimes we need to remember that we've got families and other things. It should take some priority and some focus. But the thing you see, it's very similar across not only the U.S. but across the world when it comes to the feeling of producing food and a crop to help sustain the world is a deep-rooted family feeling.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, who were some of the mentors that guided you through all of this journey that you've been on for these many years?

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, first you start with family. You know, you start with mom and dad and what are they doing and how does that affect your influence. You know, I went to college and graduated from Iowa State and lived with a bunch of guys down there that were also involved in agriculture and how did they view things from their viewpoint. And some of them have gone on and done some very interesting things with their careers outside of production agriculture, but still tied to agriculture. And so you get some influences there. It broadens your scope of what you see locally. I've been fortunate to be involved with some very solid extension agents and their viewpoints from Iowa State on how they look at either production or marketing and the business savvy and what goes into all of that.

 

Chris Edgington:

And then it's just the people. It's just meeting people. And I've got some friends in the corn organization that some of them are now out of the organization, but we're very, very successful in it. And they did a lot of really positive things. They gave me a lot of encouragement, a lot of advice on how you approach these activities in a day-to-day basis. And obviously, I was fortunate, my wife has been a tremendous influence. Her family has also been real interesting and positive in a lot of the ways because they have a farm background, but her parents did not farm. They were in business, totally different business than agriculture. And so it brought in some perspectives that she and I or her dad and I would talk about some of these things. It gives you a different perspective.

 

Chris Edgington:

So there's a lot of different people, Jon. And to say that there's just one is a challenge. I think there's a whole lot of people that help shape you as long as you're willing to listen and willing to be engaged.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know, Chris, you talk about all the people that you've gotten to know along the way. And it's interesting to me because you've come through this organization and probably worked your way up through some of the committees to assume the presidency here, but where did you start with the Corn Growers, and how did you get to the point where now you're leading it?

 

Chris Edgington:

You know, it's interesting because I was doing value-added businesses. I was involved with Ag Ventures Alliance out of Mason City, Iowa and then got involved in a project called Rural Development Partners. And I was sitting on a board called Golden Oval Eggs. It was a farmer-owned co-op. I was at a wedding actually of a niece of mine and a friend said that I just went through Iowa Corn's I-LEAD class and I think you would really enjoy it. And timing was not good. I was too busy with other things. And I happened to, as we were selling the Golden Oval Eggs Project to a different firm, I happen to see an ad in the Des Moines Register that talked about I-LEAD with Iowa Corn.

 

Chris Edgington:

And I'd been involved a little bit with our local county, very little because I was involved in some of these other projects. And I applied to be on I-LEAD in 2008, 2009, was accepted into the class. As I got towards the end of the class, I needed to make a decision. Pam Johnson, a past national president, friend of mine that lives not too far away, was terming off the Iowa board. They needed somebody from our district to be willing to run. And so I said I would. That was in 2010. And here we are today. I served nine years in Iowa and through the various officer positions there and then got elected to this board in 2016 and had been involved in a bunch of action teams up to that.

 

Chris Edgington:

So for a lot of people, I'm actually kind of a latecomer. And actually, John Linder was kind of the same, the previous president. Both of us started about the same time in our states. But there's people that have been involved in their state organizations for 20, 30 years. And some of them actually been on national boards and gone back to their state board. And so it depends on the state that they live in. Some have term limits, some don't. But I'm kind of a latecomer to corn in some ways. But I've been really enjoying what I've been doing here.

 

Dusty Weis:

You know, Chris, you describe yourself as a latecomer and certainly to become the president, even as someone who's only been involved with the Corn Growers for a little more than a decade, you must be making an impact there. So Jon Doggett, as CEO of the organization, what's your first memory of meeting Chris Edgington? What kind of an impact did he make the first time you met him?

 

Jon Doggett:

I remember meeting Chris, it was during an action team meeting somewhere out in the hallway. Just met him, shook his hand. And I asked Craig Floss, the exec at Iowa Corn later in the day, I said, "Who's this Edgington guy?" He said, "Ah, he's from North Central. Iowa, is a pretty good guy. He's a little intense sometimes. But you know what? I think he's going to be good."

 

Chris Edgington:

I'm not sure he exactly said it that way, but that's nice of you, Jon, to put it into that format.

 

Jon Doggett:

I'm merely paraphrasing.

 

Chris Edgington:

Yeah. And I'd like to say that I can be intensely focused on the issue at hand sometimes to the point that it's probably not to my benefit.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, what drives you to do what you do? I mean, you've been so active and so involved. What's the drive?

 

Chris Edgington:

You know, a lot of it's I think what drives most family operations, most family businesses, trying to make the business better for the next generation. And when you say that people say, well, you don't think your folks did a very good job or your grandparents? Well, they had different situations. They had different technology. And so we're all trying to grow the technology, use the information we gain to make things better. And some of that's local, some of that's on the farm, but some of it's not. And some of it you need to go to Washington or Des Moines or Argentina or China or some other place and discuss what we're doing and how it really works on the farm in Iowa and Minnesota and Texas and across the country.

 

Chris Edgington:

And so I guess I'm not afraid to be one of the people that's up front, maybe asking some other people questions about trying to educate, help educate about why what we're doing is very efficient and they should be proud of what we're doing because we are.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, when you were making the decision whether to run to be an officer in this organization and you took that to your family, what was the question that they asked you that gave you a moment of pause?

 

Chris Edgington:

So the biggest question is not about the value that I'm doing, but are you going to be here in the spring and the fall? Because that's the heavy workloads times. And everybody, typical family operation you wear many hats and you don't have a lot of extra people standing around. And so are you going to be able to be here most of the time in the spring and the fall? The rest of the year, if you're gone, that's part of it. And they understand it and they see the value in it because they've all been doing it.

 

Chris Edgington:

But when you step into this current role, spring and fall can be a little bit of a challenge. But we're working through it. This year, it's been going good. And next week will be my first travel. And it'll be relatively short for that one. And by the time I hit the road again, I think we should have things pretty well wrapped up.

 

Jon Doggett:

Excellent timing.

 

Chris Edgington:

Excellent.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, you and I have talked a lot and I know you have talked to a lot of people about this, but teamwork really matters to you. Why is that?

 

Chris Edgington:

Because we can only do so much by ourselves. There are a couple activities that you can do and be really good at by yourself, one of them being golf. But even golf takes a team if you ask the pros. They've got a team behind them working on helping them get better so that they can make that living. But those of us in agriculture, we need a team. We need people that are working on this daily from a staff standpoint both local and in DC and around the world with the Grains Council and USMEF because we can produce a lot of products in the U.S. that we cannot consume here. So we need a team promoting them. We need a team working on our issues.

 

Chris Edgington:

I have learned a lot in my time here with corn about the political aspect of how things move and what's really important. And I would guess if you asked most farmers, they would think that the Ag Committee is probably the most powerful committee in Washington, DC. But what you find out when you've done this is that they're actually, they're not. They're really powerful about once every four years, and then the other three years there's other committees that take precedent. And so it takes a team. It takes a group of people dedicated to making sure that production agriculture continues to be gaining on the positives that we've had over the last 50 years.

 

Jon Doggett:

Chris, as you're looking at the broad landscape of this organization and this industry, what's the biggest opportunity corn farmers have right now?

 

Chris Edgington:

That we're able to produce a great crop with limited resources in some cases is an opportunity. International markets are an opportunity. Technology is an opportunity. And they'll all be utilized. They'll all come into place. At the same time, those all provide challenges. We've got input supply challenges at the moment. Prices are going through the roof because they can't get the supply. Everybody out there has seen what's happened to gasoline. Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a producer and he's looking at it production.

 

Chris Edgington:

International markets, we've seen them come and go. And sometimes they've come and go not because of the buyer but because of the people sitting in charge of those countries or in charge of our country. Tariffs and embargoes and things like that that have happened over the last 50 years very seldom give us a lot of help, and yet they can be an opportunity because we do play in a world scale. And so if we lose a market one place, we're scrambling to find a market in a new place. And maybe when the other market comes back, we've still got the new market, so maybe we grew our market.

 

Chris Edgington:

So it's interwoven, Jon, when it comes to both opportunities and challenges as to both of them have got two different sides of the story. But what farmers really want is they want some certainty. They want to know that their inputs will be there reliably on time with the amount that they need. They also want to know that they've got certain markets that are going to be there every day. Livestock is always of great consumer products here in the U.S. So is the ethanol industry. And so are some of our other industrial uses. Exports, we've got some countries that are fantastic every single year. And then we got some countries that are challenges.

 

Chris Edgington:

But certainty is something that farmers would really like because it's tough to manage a business where mother nature is your best partner and you have no control over mother nature, and so you're trying to manage everything else.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, I'm going to ask you two questions. The first question is if you had one minute and only one minute, that's 60 seconds with the President of the United States, what would you tell him?

 

Chris Edgington:

I think I'd go back to where I just finished. I'd say farmers need certainty. We need certainty in government regulations. We need certainty in export markets. We need certainty in supply. Do not step and do things that cause all kinds of confusion and lack of certainty. We need certainty and regulations coming out of your organizations, whether it's USDA or EPA or DOE or whoever else we touch, and we trust that you're going to bring us that certainty because that is part of your responsibility.

 

Jon Doggett:

Okay. And the second question, similar to the first, and that is you talked about next week you're going to be on a plane again. And as president of this organization, you're going to be on a lot of planes. So let's say you sit down in your seat on the plane and you're sitting next to a young Millennial from one of the coasts. Obviously, never had anything to do with agriculture in the sense that we describe it. But you have one minute to tell that young Millennial with all the tattoos and the piercings and the, probably has hair, what would you say to that person to connect them a little bit better to what it is that you do?

 

Chris Edgington:

I think I'd talk about our trust in our sustainability and that we drink water, we breathe air just same as they do. We consume food every day on a daily basis. And we want a high-quality, consistent product as well, both whether it's drinking or eating. And so maybe a little trust on our sustainability efforts and that we do know that we are improving water quality, we are improving soil health, and that will allow them to feel very comfortable when they go to the grocery store and buy whatever product that they're going to buy and consume that day or the next day.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, what's something people might misunderstand about you?

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, I think we actually touched on it earlier probably. And that's the intensity of the look, the intensity of my thought or my question. And I've said this, because I do ask a lot of questions, I'm not asking questions oftentimes to second guess. I'm asking questions to provide clarity to me and to anybody else that might be in the room. And so when people understand that I'm just looking for more clarity, that helps when it comes to some of the probing questions that I might do.

 

Jon Doggett:

You're in your first month and this time will go very, very quickly between now and the end of September of next year. What are you hoping to get done in this next year?

 

Chris Edgington:

You know, Jon, that's kind of a loaded question. I guess my philosophy is, it's always been, as I've stepped to the front of a room in some other organizations, is at the end of the year I hope that the organization, the people, the industry are a little bit better overall than when I came in. I can't do a lot by myself. That was the whole point about teamwork. It's no different than the star pitcher who can strike out the side, but the offense never scores either. No different than a quarterback who can throw it 70 yards in the air flat-footed, but the offensive line never gives him a chance to even find his feet to be flat-footed. It's all about teamwork, and so if the team is working a little better, if the industry is a little better at the end of the year, I'm going to say it is success from my point.

 

Jon Doggett:

So Chris, thank you so much for all that you do. And I know that you're sitting in your office and you're getting ready for a big day with harvest. You have a lot of things to manage. So thank you so much for your time and thank you for your commitment to this organization and to this industry.

 

Chris Edgington:

You know, it's been a great morning doing this, but it's very easy to be committed to an industry when you enjoy producing that crop and then being part of that industry from the get-go. So it's pretty easy to be committed.

 

Jon Doggett:

That's great. Well with that, this is another episode of Wherever Jon May Roam. I am Jon Doggett, the CEO of the National Corn Growers, and thank you for joining this podcast.

 

Dusty Weis:

That is going to wrap up this edition of Wherever Jon May Roam, the National Corn Growers Association podcast. New episodes arrive every month, so make sure you subscribe in your favorite app and join us again soon. Visit ncga.com to learn more or sign up for the association's email newsletter.

 

Dusty Weis:

Wherever Jon May Roam is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association with editing by Doug Russell and production oversight by Larry Kilgore III. And it's produced by Podcamp Media. A branded podcast production for businesses, podcampmedia.com.

 

Dusty Weis:

For the National Corn Growers Association, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weiss.

 

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