EP. 28 - New Challenges and Opportunities for Growers in 2022, with NCGA President Chris Edgington

January 26, 2022

EP. 28 - New Challenges and Opportunities for Growers in 2022, with NCGA President Chris Edgington

Jan 26, 2022

Author: Dusty Weis

We're taking a close look at the state of the market, and its impact on Chris’s own operation.

 

Last year was a mixed bag of news for the nation’s corn growers.

 

Corn prices climbed, but so did input costs. News about supply lines, infrastructure and politics came fast and heavy.

 

And 2022 is giving every indication of continuing on that chaotic, breakneck pace.

 

So in this episode, we check in with NCGA President Chris Edgington to hear how all these big national news stories have impacted his operation in Iowa, what lessons he learned in 2021 and what growers need to know to thrive in 2022.

 

 

 
Transcript

 

 

Chris Edgington:

NCGA and Corn are present. They're involved. They're engaged, at the local level, at the state level, at the national level. Whether it's a federal policy meeting, whether it's a tax discussion, whether it's a local water waste problem, it's not about the people that are sitting on the board, but it's the organization as a whole.

 

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 it's 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 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:

Last year was a mixed bag of news for the nation's corn growers. Corn prices climbed, but so did input costs. News about supply lines, infrastructure, and politics came fast and heavy, and 2022 is giving every indication of continuing at that chaotic breakneck pace. So in this episode, we're going to check in with NCGA president, Chris Edgington, to hear how all these big national news stories have impacted his operation in Iowa, what lessons he learned in 2021, and what growers need to know to thrive in 2022.

 

Dusty Weis:

But if you haven't yet, make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app. Also make sure to 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, last year had a little bit of everything for growers. I don't know about you, but Christmas and New Year's this year just kind of felt like the first chance I'd had all year to even catch my breath.

 

Jon Doggett:

Boy. And I took a breath too, sometime a couple days before Christmas, and it was great. And then I started looking back on the year, and think about how many good things happened, and how many not so good things happened.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know, the other day, I was going through some things and getting ready for Commodity Classic. And I ran into the presentation I made at the awards banquet in 2020, and I was talking about 2019. And it's hard to believe that 2019 is just a couple years ago, but remember how crazy that was. And the weather was so awful, and we had such a horrible spring and worries about the crop.

 

Jon Doggett:

As I remember, what I presented was, "Boy, am I glad to get to 2020. 2020 is going to be so much better." Well, then 2020 happened. And then we said earlier last year, "Well, thank goodness we're in 2021. And '21 is going to be better than '20." Well, here we are one more time. It's 2022, and we got a lot of things to talk about. And a lot of things to talk about, what can we expect in 2022. But a little bit of going back and talking about what happened last year, and the good things that happened, and some of the things that we just need to talk about.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, what we want to do is level set a little bit. And with that, we're going to welcome the president of NCGA, Chris Edgington, from St. Ansgar, Iowa. Chris, welcome back to the podcast.

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, it's a pleasure to be back. And you were talking there about things that have happened. And honestly, I'd probably have to sit down and look at each individual month over the last 12, because there's probably been something happened that was fairly significant, somewhere in agriculture, in the last 12 months, on each individual month.

 

Jon Doggett:

Definitely. We had ups. We had downs. And you're right, we had a flavor of the month, it seemed like. Let's go through some of those things that happened. And the one thing, I think, that is great is corn prices came up, but some other things came up as well. So, what happened on your farm? What's your local cash price for corn today? And what are you paying for some of those inputs?

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, cash corn in north Iowa today is in the upper fives, bumping six. It's right there in that area. Deliver a lot of corn into the local ethanol plant which yesterday. So did about all of my friends and neighbors, from about a 50 mile radius. We sat in line for quite some time, but the demand is pretty good on that side. So, cash prices are around six bucks. $5.75. $5.80. $5.90. $6.00. Depends on your region. And yet, there's an awful lot of corn that's being delivered.

 

Chris Edgington:

It's got a four in front of it because of a lot of people that do some pricing ahead. They start pricing ahead back in April, May, June, when they're starting to plant the crop, and feel comfortable they're going to get it in the ground. And we weren't at these prices then. So there's some $4.00 corn, including our own, that's going to the market today. And while that's much better than $3 corn, it's certainly not where we are today. And it's one of the things people have to take into account.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, what about those inputs, Chris?

 

Chris Edgington:

You really want to go down that rabbit hole today, don't you?

 

Jon Doggett:

Oh, we ought to at least mention this recent unpleasantness.

 

Chris Edgington:

So, let's talk about the good ones first. Let's talk about the fact that seed costs are pretty stable, and seed supply is pretty stable. Which, a year ago, we had questions about that because of the derecho in Iowa, which wiped out a huge chunk of seed producing areas for various companies. There was concern would you have seed supply, a year ago at this time? And we did have enough corn. Guys did get the acres planted. And they had a pretty good production year on seed this year, and so prices are pretty stable on that area.

 

Chris Edgington:

Fertilizer. Different story. Fertilizer is up two or three times what it was a year ago. Supply is a concern. It depends on the product, whether you're talking about potash, or phosphorus, or nitrogen. They've all got various wrinkles going on. All three of them have had companies try to get countervailing duties or tariffs put on import products, of which, on phosphate, Mosaic and company have been successful on that. But you know, Jon, we're fighting that in the courts, and the judge is going to hear it. And we're going to talk about that here more this summer, when they start talking about it as well.

 

Chris Edgington:

But phosphate is become a real challenge for my neighbors. And do they put it on? Don't they put it on? I know some didn't put it on. Some didn't put as much on because of the price difference from a year ago.

 

Chris Edgington:

Nitrogen. They're trying to take a page out of the phosphate book. If it was good to put imports and countervailing on top of phosphate, let's try that for nitrogen. And what people don't realize is it's not just the cost of the tariff on the product coming in from a foreign country or foreign company. That affects the price of all the products, whether they're domestic produced or foreign produced. And so, you put a 10% tariff on products coming out of Russia, and nitrogen into the US, that effectively raised the price 10% across all nitrogen products, domestic or international. And so these tariffs and countervailing duties are causing some real problems.

 

Chris Edgington:

And there were some nitrogen shortages last fall. And there's some real concern about liquid nitrogen for this spring, which is what we use. I've had money out there since July on trying to lock in and stabilize some liquid nitrogen prices on a product that I won't use until April. And so, we are very concerned that will the product be there? Now, our supplier has been very dependable. Very reliable. And I truly trust that they will get us the product. But will it be in time? There could be some late deliveries. Could be some adjustments being made. And urea faces some of those same challenges, depends on where it's being used. But fertilizer's up two, three, some cases, four times from what they paid a year ago, in spot market situations.

 

Chris Edgington:

And then you can go over to the chemistry side, and herbicide, fungicide, and insecticide. And it looks like we're going to spend 70 to 90% more than what we did a year ago, all in, by the time I get done with fungicide, insecticide, herbicides on our corn and soybean acres.

 

Chris Edgington:

And there is a very big concern there on supply, especially imported Roundup, or imported glyphosate. That product is definitely in short supply, but I know people that are changing their chemistry programs, left and right. They're looking for different products, different ways to go, so they don't have to worry about, "Is it going to get here?" They're going to a product that they can use, that's available. Priced more than they like, but right now, when it comes to controlling weeds and bugs, availability of product is more important than the price. Unfortunately.

 

Dusty Weis:

So, at the end of the day, Chris, with corn prices up, and thank goodness for that and all that, but is your take home really that much better than it was before, with all these additional input prices?

 

Chris Edgington:

No. Take home hasn't hardly changed at all. And we didn't even touch on land rents, which also were up. Farmers understand that that is very much a function of revenue. You've got a lot of flex leases. You've got a lot of combination out there. You got your traditional cash. But rents are up as well. So, we get all done, no. We're going to spend several hundred dollars an acre more than we did a year ago, but the return is not looking to be a whole lot different.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, you're running in place a little bit. But Chris, what's the innovation going to be to deal with this? Do you see another two, three years here where we're going to see a lot of innovation, and a lot of new ways of doing things? Do you see a lot of change in the acres, and what we're going to plant? How do you see people reacting to higher corn prices, but higher input prices? Where do you see folks maneuvering?

 

Chris Edgington:

That's a lot in one question, Jon. So let's maybe touch on the acres first, because I get asked this quite a bit. I don't see a huge shift in acres. I think corn, wheat, and soybeans are going to be similar. We'll be in the similar acreage total that we were last year, and the year before. That's kind of where we have settled in. You've got some other commodities, especially in the south, with cotton, and rice, and peanuts, that can have some influence. But for the vast majority of the upper Midwest, where corn, soy and wheat are predominantly grown, I think the acre total will be similar. Now, the mix can move a little based on weather. It could be a million one way, a million the other. But I think, right now, we're not in a situation where you're going to have big changes.

 

Chris Edgington:

Farmers are pretty optimistic because of the price. They're grumbling on the inputs, but they're optimistic on what they can look forward, and use futures prices to establish a floor. And we're coming into crop insurance time. Obviously, we feel if we have a stable February, as far as December futures goes, that gives producers a really nice opportunity.

 

Chris Edgington:

And I think one of the biggest and quickest things we're going to see, I'm not sure this is innovation, but it's going to be trial and error, and that's what can they cut out? How much less nitrogen can they use? How much less phosphate can they use? How much less potash can they use? Do they have to put that sulfur out there again, like we've been doing? Do they need the zinc? Are they able to replace it with a biological that will help them? Are they able to replace it with no-till, minimum=till? Will cover crops help? Cover crops, maybe, help more on the herbicide side over time than they do on some of the other things, although they will help nitrogen in some ways.

 

Chris Edgington:

But there will be things going on. There always are. Agriculture has never stopped innovating from the very beginning. And so, there will be things go on.

 

Chris Edgington:

But I think the very first thing, and I actually heard of a study last week out of Missouri, that they actually think they're going to have less per bushel corn yield this year because producers are going to put less nitrogen on. And nitrogen is very closely related to corn, and corn yield. And so, they're already projecting that because of the cost, producers will cut 20, 30 pounds. Hope that the weather works out and cooperates, and they can pull some nitrogen out of the soil. If you get the proper mixture of bugs, and temperatures, and moisture, that you can actually get a little bit more nitrogen than normal. But I do think that's going to be the guys that have never variable-rated, may look at that.

 

Chris Edgington:

Strip-till may get some legs, more legs than it has out of this, because you put it in a band. You plant right on top of it. And in our operation, so far, we have not cut pounds out of strip-till from what we would've broadcast. But if we stay here for next year, definitely. Easy to take 20, 25% of your pounds out of that, and feel pretty comfortable that your root zone is going to be well managed for the next year's crop.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, having corn prices pushing six bucks gives you a little wiggle room with some of that innovation. You can afford to make a couple missteps here and there. Not big ones, but it's certainly a whole lot easier than if that corn price was below four. So, innovation is always interesting. I'm always struck by how farmers and ranchers can figure out how to make do in interesting times, and we certainly have those.

 

Chris Edgington:

And the one other innovator that we work with every year is what is the innovation that Mother Nature gives us. And this last year, in my town, we were short of water. We were eight, nine inches under normal until the very end of August, and then we got all that in one night. And yet, other than one strip just a couple miles behind where I live to the east, and that strip was probably 20 miles long north to south, most of our area had a really good corn crop. That area over there was, probably, bushels below what everybody else was. But they kept missing those little bitty rains that we got, that kept us going along. And you could see it. You could see it. So, that tells you how close to teetering on the edge we were on water, for last year's growing conditions.

 

Chris Edgington:

Now, who knows? This year could be completely different. Hopefully, we do not have the wildfires out west. But you know what? We already got a big volcano that's disrupting the atmosphere. So, there's lots of things that can happen with Mother Nature that, regardless of how innovative we are, we still have to hope she innovates right along with us.

 

Jon Doggett:

Still seeing that back home, and saw that fire up close and personal in our place. Mother Nature is Mother Nature, and she doesn't like to be fooled, as the old ad goes.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, Chris, let's change subjects a little bit. Something that this organization did, that we got some accolades, some "Thank you very much" from our customers, and that's our sustainability report that we issued in April. What's important, in your mind, about that sustainability report?

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, there's several things when it comes to sustainability, and that report is all about sustainability is a slow crawl. We make small steps every year on water, soil, air, nutrient management. And you don't think you're doing much, and then you look back over time and you say, "Hey, I'm 10%, 15%, 20% better than I was 10 years ago." Unfortunately, we've got some people that think you should you just be able to turn a switch and instantly things go easier. Our soils don't react that way. They take time.

 

Chris Edgington:

And so, one of the other things that come out of that, and people are more open to talking about than maybe we have in the past is, at the same time we need to be economically sustainable. And that's not just for the producer, that's for the consumer as well. Because I don't want high grocery prices. I really don't. It's a crazy thing. I'm in the food business, and yet I am the consumer as well. And I walk in the grocery store, and I don't want to see huge prices on fruits and vegetables, or canned goods, or fresh meats and eggs. So, I'm just like everybody else in that. So, we need to be economically sustainable and viable, both for the producers and the consumers. And we can do that.

 

Chris Edgington:

In fact, one of the interesting things is we have been doing that. We just haven't talked about it very much, and that's pretty normal for agriculture. We're pretty quiet. We go about our business. Do our thing. Try to do our very best to produce the food, whether you're in livestock, or crop production, or vegetables, or fruits, or whatever. And make sure it gets to the shelf in a wholesome manner, at a price. But we've been willing to talk more about the efforts that we're doing, whether it's cover crop, or no-till, or variable-rate chemicals, or variable-rate seed, or prescription technology, and autosteer. And so many of the other things that we just really didn't talk about, because most of my neighbors don't want to talk about it. They just want to go do it.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know, you coined a phrase two years ago that I picked up and have been using, without any attribution to you. But you have said, "If you haven't been on a corn farm in the last five years, you haven't been on a corn farm." Tell me the three things that you have changed on your farm in the last five years that you think are the most significant. And not just on production, just overall. What are the three things you've done that are most significant, particularly when it comes to sustainability?

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, one of the things that's totally not part of this discussion, but I think it's a big piece, is we've made a major improvement in our grain handling. And so, the product that we have is higher quality. And so, in some ways that's been a big change, because we didn't fight some of the old quality issues that we had. I see that with my neighbors all over the place. Better bands. Bigger bands. Newer driers that are much more efficient, use way less fuel, way less natural gas or LP. And so, that whole piece is an area that probably gets forgotten about, but it was a big change for us on some grain quality things. And it will have a lot of long-term improvements.

 

Chris Edgington:

We continue to add to our technology uses with the autosteer, with variable-rate. I am a really strong proponent that anybody can variable-rate plant and put more seeds, or less seeds, in any one area, if you've been farming that field more than one or two years. Farmers will know their fields very quickly, what they can do, can't do. You get a couple yield maps. You take the time to study those maps.

 

Chris Edgington:

And one of the other ones that comes in, we continue to add tile. And it's all about water management. Because if the soil percolates well and the water moves correctly, things stay where they're supposed to. You don't get ponding. You don't get dead areas. You don't get lack of life. People look out and they'll see a pond in a field and they'll think, "Well, the poor corn plant." The bugs and the night-crawlers underneath, they're in worse shape. There's no oxygen. They can't live in that at all. And so, you get a field properly drained, the water will filtrate through.

 

Chris Edgington:

I think I should have gotten in the tiling business. Those guys got a waiting list that's six miles long. There's constantly more and more effort to come in, because things like cover crop and no-till work better in a pattern-tiled field, than they do in a field with no tile. I have a good friend, neighbor, that's done a lot of this. And he says, "First thing you got to do if you're going to strip-till, or no-till, or cover crops, you got to get the field tiled. You got to get it pattern-tiled so that the water moves." And around here, people used to put tile lines in at 80 to 100 feet apart. Today, they're putting them in at 50 feet, because they can see the difference on their maps. They can see the difference in their soil quality when the field is more uniformly drained.

 

Chris Edgington:

And so, they're all little things, Jon. I can't say that they're huge things, but they are small steps moving forward over time. I am talking about and doing things today that, I've been farming for over 35 years, that I never even thought about 20 and 30 years ago. Now, I've learned more about, probably, producing a corn plant the proper way and getting a good ear in the last 10 or 12 years, just in overall technology improvements, than I did in the first 25 years I farmed.

 

Chris Edgington:

My dad was on the very tail end of horses. Last fall, he climbs up in that half a million dollar combine. It's got 18 or 19 computers in it with little micro chips, and he operates it. And we've got iPads in there, and control screens, and autosteer, and he can do it. He manages it. My 34-year-old son, if he sees the same difference that my dad did... I think autonomous will probably be way more common than we think. Everybody still talks about what happens with the mudhole, or how do you get the planter filled, or how do you do some of the other things, but it will be a different style of farming. And not to say that grandpa and grandma, and everybody in the past, didn't do a great job. They worked with the tools they had at the time. And the tools continue to change, and so we need to be able to change with those tools.

 

Jon Doggett:

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, had a great quote here a couple months ago. "Things have never changed as fast as they are right now, and they'll never change as slowly as they are right now." My dad talks about putting up hay with mules, and what a change we've seen on our place, as just as you have on yours.

 

Jon Doggett:

Switching topics one more time, to a topic that I just as soon not talk about, but the staff put together a list of things that we are to talk about. We had a baseball game not too far from where you're at. Talk about that baseball game last summer.

 

Chris Edgington:

The baseball game was great, Jon. And if you'd quit flying American, you could probably get there. Just try one of them other airlines out once. And I say that with tongue-in-cheek because I fly Delta all the time, and I have my fair share of problems with them. So, it's just the convenience and ease of transportation.

 

Chris Edgington:

But the baseball game was a great opportunity to showcase agriculture. And we couldn't have had better weather. We couldn't have had a better game. The setting was great. And lots of questions coming out of that from people. "Well, how do you do that?"

 

Chris Edgington:

"How do you get rows straight?"

 

Chris Edgington:

"How do you get the seed spaced evenly?"

 

Chris Edgington:

"How do you do this? How do you do that?"

 

Chris Edgington:

Also, "That wasn't sweet corn out there, was it?"

 

Chris Edgington:

"No, that was No. 2 Yellow," which we raise 90 million acres of No. 2 Yellow, and we raise one million acres of sweet corn. A fair number of consumers would think it's the other way around. And that's okay. We make 4,000 products out of corn, and we showcased just a couple of them there at the ballgame. And hopefully, we get it pulled off and get to do it again here this next year. And it will be tough to top a walk-off home run at the end. But it's just a great opportunity to talk about what we do on a daily basis.

 

Chris Edgington:

And what's interesting, and people get frustrated with it, but when people watch sporting events, they also pay attention to the downtime in-between activity. Whether it's a football game and the commercials, whether it's a baseball game and commercials, whether it's just the announcers talking as the next guy's coming to bat, or whatever. And you and I both been around long enough that we've been in a couple of those radio booths. And that poor announcer, they're handing him papers faster than he can talk most of the time, as he's trying to get all that through in a 20-second downtime between batters, or a short time out, and they don't actually go away, or something like that. But it's a great opportunity just to highlight some of the other things that are going on around the situation of that activity.

 

Chris Edgington:

And so it was fun. I was glad to be there. And I really hope that we get that opportunity again.

 

Jon Doggett:

And I'm going to come at least a couple days early this time. But the thing about the game was it wasn't what people learned, it was how it made them feel. It made people, whether you were a corn farmer, or otherwise involved in the industry, or just the folks at the retirement home in Helena, Montana where my mom lives, and she made everybody watch the game, it's how people felt about it. When those players came out of that field, it was a really, really neat feeling. And I think it was such a thrill for our organization to be such an important part of that.

 

Dusty Weis:

But I'll say this, Jon, too, because this is the MLB Field of Dreams game that was played out in Dyersville, Iowa. What the people didn't see on TV is just the amount of work that went on behind the scenes, for literal years, just to make that moment happen. And do you, Jon, want to take a moment to just talk about what went into that from NCGA's organizational side?

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, first of all, we went to our states and told them of what we were thinking about doing. And this game was supposed to have been played in 2020. The states came just, "Absolutely. Let's participate in this. Let's invest in this." And we put some money into this, and a lot of work. And it took a number of personal meetings with MLB, a gazillion phone calls, and a lot of back and forth. And finally, it happened. And I think MLB was really surprised at what emotions that game brought out in people. And I know Chris and John Linder had a conversation with some of those folks connected with major league baseball after the game, and I think they were kind of surprised. Weren't they, Chris?

 

Chris Edgington:

Yeah, they were. And one of the things... I've been fortunate to be at a couple sporting events where the game ends and nobody leaves. They're just going, "Wow. What did I just get to experience?" And I talked to some people that watched it on TV, and then they felt the same way. So, even though we were in the moment, on-site, that whole 'what did I just experience?' was also felt through the television set, which is really cool. I mean, because that doesn't always happen.

 

Chris Edgington:

And Major League Baseball was, I think, more than excited. Probably the next day, they were probably even more excited when they realized that it was the most-watched regular-season game since 2005. So, they drew in a huge audience. People were very interested. The players. The managers. By the time they were done, I'd heard that they were maybe a little bit skeptical. But by the time they were done, they had thought it was the greatest experience they might have ever been in. And that was the Yankee manager said that. He says, "I don't know if I've ever been in an experience as cool as what this was."

 

Chris Edgington:

And so, Major League Baseballs, they recognize they've got something there. It's taken baseball back to "Let's play catch with our kids. Let's do this." Where did baseball come from, and the sandlot games? We all grew up watching some of the sandlot movies that are out there. Kids just going in the back yard and throwing a ball. And how many windows got broke in local neighborhoods because somebody overthrew, or hit a foul, or did something. And people just take it that that's just part of kids having fun. And that's part of what that game did, was it brought it back together. That baseball, as a family event, has been forever. And it's just an opportunity for people to spend a little time together as a family.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, Chris, let's talk about two things that happened, or didn't happen, in Washington. One is something that happened in Washington, and the other is something that didn't happen in Washington. And both's positives.

 

Jon Doggett:

One, we got an infrastructure bill passed, and we ended up not having to deal with stepped-up basis to pay for some of that. So, a very busy year. You were very involved in the stepped-up basis issue. You saw it as not only something important to the industry, but you could relate to it personally. Talk about how you felt as one, a farmer, and two, as the president of an agricultural organization. About what happened with the stepped-up basis, and where we are now, and how we got there.

 

Chris Edgington:

Well, I think that that whole tax discussion was a good example of people will put up with a lot when it comes to taxes. They understand we have to pay taxes. It's part of what drives our economy. It fixes our roads. It does the bridges. It does a lot of things.

 

Chris Edgington:

But people do not want to give up 40, or 50, or 60 years of hard work, that they really planned to pass down to their children, or their grandchildren, before taxes. We had a tremendous response, and it wasn't just in agriculture. It affects small business. It affected people that had owned real estate in New York city for 50, or 60, or 70 years. And they were going to have to pass that down, and probably have to sell it, to do that. So, it's a topic that people rallied around, that we'll do a lot of things, but what I want to pass down to my family, whether it's the business, or whether it's some assets, I highly recommend you find a different approach to get what you're after than that. It really was successful.

 

Chris Edgington:

Obviously, the infrastructure bill, we got that done without touching any of the long term tax implications. And it's going to fix things. It's going to fix a lot of things that America is dependent on. Whether it's ports, whether it's locks and dams, whether it's roads and bridges, every state's going to get funds to go after and fix some of their worst issues. Here in Iowa, I thought I saw 400 million was coming here shortly, and then there's a whole bunch more coming behind it, to work on bridges. We rank as one of the poorest state repairs when it comes to bridges.

 

Chris Edgington:

But we're going to get locks and dams fixed. And the general consumer maybe forgets that we need the ports, and the locks and dams. They need ports, and locks and dams, just as much as I do, because we have products moving in and out from all over the world. We live in a world economy. We move stuff in and out. It's not just agriculture products. It's electronics. It's consumer goods. It's... the list goes on, and on, and on. And so, having a highly functioning port system, lock and dam system, is actually one of America's biggest strengths. There's very few places in the world that can compete with that infrastructure that we've got, and has been in place. But it needs some repairs. Some of it's been around a long time, and it needs repairs. So, this is a good deal.

 

Jon Doggett:

Absolutely. And as we look at these supply chain issues, a lot of them revolve around ports and the ability to move stuff, whether it's down the road, or across the river, or across the ocean. A lot of that got addressed, but we're not going to see that for some time, how that will transpire. It's going to take a year or two, or even three, to get to some of that. But what a great accomplishment to get this done.

 

Jon Doggett:

So, I want to go to a conversation you and I had last night. And I want to refer back to your... the fact that you were waiting in line the last couple of days, delivering grain to the elevator. You and I talked about, yesterday, how many things we do that it's hard to communicate to our membership. We're doing so many great things. And you and I both moved up in this organization, started realizing how much stuff was going on. When you're out there with your fellow farmers waiting in the truck to unload your corn, how much of this stuff that we've done this last year, or two, or three, do you think that they know? And what do you wish they knew more of?

 

Chris Edgington:

They know some, but I think they could certainly know a lot more about our sustainability efforts. Unless they're really in that world, they've not heard a lot about that. It's been pretty evident what we're doing when it comes to fertilizer. It'd be tough to not pick up a farm magazine and see NCGA's logo slapped all over some article, whether it was your op-ed, or some of the other ones that we're doing with fertilizer, and the press call we had last week. And they're seeing that, but I'm not sure they totally grasp some of the ramifications, because I didn't. Of what some of these tariffs and countervailing duties really mean. There's a lot of discussion last summer on the last topic we had, stepped-up basis. I got a lot of questions from my local people. What are we doing about that? And how can I help? And I've actually had that on the fertilizer issue, as well. What can I do?

 

Chris Edgington:

So, the things that my neighbors probably talk about more than anything is either, A, what affects their business, their bottom line, or what affects their family. And obviously, business cost, fertilizer cost, input cost, affect their business, and the taxes affected their family. And so, those are the ones that really get a lot of attention. I would guess it will happen.

 

Chris Edgington:

It's not really happened a lot yet, but there'll be discussion about farm bill. That'll start to get pushed out to the rural level. Guys will start asking, "Are you working on changes? Do you think there'll be changes?" We're probably going to have another election before we really get the farm bill a long ways down the road. There will be some activity this year, but I'm guessing that we get to the middle of the summer, farm bill's not going to get a lot of press because it'll be about the elections. That's the world we live in. You go every other year where you get a lot done, and then you don't get as much done. And we're in the don't-get-as-much done year.

 

Jon Doggett:

It's the getting ready to get something done. And sometimes, that's the hardest part of the job. So, of all of the things this organization does, what do you wish your fellow farmers knew? What are you most proud of? When you look at this organization, and you stand back and say, "I've been involved in this, and I had a part of this, and I think this is really cool stuff," what are the other things that you'd really like your fellow farmers to know about?

 

Chris Edgington:

You know, Jon, it doesn't fall probably into any of those categories. But one of the things that I'm really most proud of is, between our grower leaders, between our staff, between our volunteers at the local level, NCGA and Corn are present. They're involved. They're engaged. At the local level. At the state level. At the national level. Whether it's a federal policy meeting, whether it's a tax discussion, whether it's a local water waste problem, corn farmers are engaged. Producers are engaged. We've got almost 40,000 members. We are active. We are vocal at times. Maybe sometimes we need to be more vocal, but we're better than some others. Honestly, it's one of the things I'm probably most proud of is, we are engaged. We are there. It's not about the people that are sitting on the board. They may be a little bit it more engaged than others, but it's the organization as a whole.

 

Chris Edgington:

Our staff is extremely engaged. I have to do a testimony this afternoon with the EPA, on WOTUS. And all weekend, Colleen and I are working back and forth because I just couldn't get to three minutes. They don't give you much time to do those. And she put a whole lot of big words in there that were slowing me down. So, we did get it. But you know, she didn't have to do that on the weekend. She could have waited, but she knew that this is important. And that's just an example of just one of our staff that's always engaged.

 

Chris Edgington:

Unfortunately, Jon, you and I have talked about this, most of the board is always engaged. We're not very good at disengaging, but we got a whole lot of company. We got 40,000 other members that are almost always engaged, one way or another. And more people that I think will be joining, based on some of the topics we've had to tackle, and some of the press we've been getting on positive effects, especially around the fertilizer deal. But I'm just proud to lead a group of people that want to be engaged.

 

Jon Doggett:

It is. It's cool. And you talk about engagement, and the tax deal, the stepped-up basis deal, we've not had the grassroots turn-out like that in years. And you hate to say that people only move when they're threatened, but it was a great effort. And it worked. And we got thousands, and thousands, and thousands of corn farmers to let Congress know that they weren't real happy with this thing. And it was such a nice thing because it shows, hey, our democracy's working a little bit. We all the time say, "Oh, our democracy is broken." This one, I think, you can point to and say, "This organization led the way to show that democracy can work, but you got to work at it." And then there's another saying, that I think you've coined, something about working together?

 

Chris Edgington:

Working together works, Jon. We both know that.

 

Dusty Weis:

Jon, you alluded earlier to the fact that 2020, 2021, were years that caught us off guard. And so, I don't think anybody is going to say anything so bold as, "Well, 2022 has to be better than those years." And so, we're not saying that. We're not saying that in this podcast. But I think it's very important, as well, to look forward to 2022 and say there are certain things that we've learned over the last year, lessons that we can take into 2022. And there are certain things that we know that we can look forward to, as well. So, question to both of you, then, what have you learned that you're taking forward into the new year? And what's something that you're looking forward to?

 

Chris Edgington:

So, you know, one of the things that we've learned is, and I guess I'll take this from a macro viewpoint, people in our organization enjoy working together face to face. We've had some real trials the last couple years. We're going to have some trials again this year. But people are more interested in at least some form of face to face. We saw that last week with action committee meetings where 70, 80% of the people were present in the room.

 

Chris Edgington:

The virtuals were also engaged, though. We've gotten much better at that. First time we tried to do that, the people that were virtually connected were like, they thought they were in some sort of vacuum, I think. It didn't seem to work very well. So, technology has speeded up on how do we make that mixed meeting work better. I am looking forward though, to more of the in-person stuff.

 

Chris Edgington:

More of the winter conferences are going to happen. People are going to have to be flexible in some of the things that may happen. Whether it's our great meeting, Commodity Classic in New Orleans, where we bring all of our corn grower friends together, along with soybeans, and wheat, and sorghum, and a few other thousand others, that just want to come to a really great trade show and an interesting city. But there'll be some steps we have to take. There'll be some things we have to do.

 

Chris Edgington:

There'll be some people upset. They're upset, I think, because they want to get back to doing regular life, as they view it. I'm not sure what regular life is anymore after the last two years, but they just want to get back. And we're not there yet. It may take a little while, but you're going to see people out and about more, which from my standpoint, as a grower, as a producer, is good. People consume a little more if they're out and about. Whether it's ethanol or whether it's food products, if they're able to be out and about, they're a little happier consumer than if they're only sitting at home.

 

Jon Doggett:

You know, I'm still hoping that there's a lesson somewhere on how to manage around COVID. It's hard to manage around something that has been so crazy. I mean, just about the time you think, okay, we're going to head back to normal, and then it goes like this, and you have staff, and growers...

 

Jon Doggett:

Among the staff, you have a wide spectrum of expectations, concerns. You certainly see that among the growers. And it's hard to manage all of that when you have expectations from each part of that organization, and how to manage that. I think we've learned some lessons. I think we've learned, one, that technology can work. Chris, absolutely right. The first few hybrid meetings we had, you were either in person, or you were on another planet. And now, I think we're getting better at that. I think one of the things looking forward to is, yes, it's important to be in person, but can we open up more opportunities to more people using that technology, and not being afraid of that technology, and finding ways to make it easier.

 

Jon Doggett:

And you know, when we got on this podcast an hour ago, we did what we do every time we get on the podcast, is we go to Larry, the great engineer, and he helps us get all of this hooked up. But increasingly, we're all able to do that ourselves. And I think that's really pretty neat. And if we can use this technology...

 

Jon Doggett:

You drive down the road. You drive by that farm. You think there's somebody in that farmhouse right now who could add a lot to this organization, but they're only going to have an hour that they can spend, twice a year, or three times a year. How do we tap into that person? And I think the technology, and the things that we've learned through COVID, are going to help us with that. Now we just have to figure out how to find those people and bring them into this organization, and spread it out and get more perspectives, and more new and interesting ideas.

 

Jon Doggett:

I think COVID has been a horrible thing, but it has also allowed us to take some looks at how we interact with one another. And I think if we take those tools, we will continue to build on a great organization, to make it even better.

 

Jon Doggett:

Well, this has been an interesting conversation, and I thank you, Chris. Chris Edgington, NCGA president, from north-central Iowa. Thanks for joining us, once again, on the podcast. I am NCGA CEO, Jon Doggett. And we hope you'll join us again real soon for the next episode of Wherever Jon May Roam podcast, from the National Corn Growers Association.

 

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 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, with editing and production oversight by Larry Kilgore II. And it's produced by Podcamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses, podcampmedia.com. For the National Corn Growers Association, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weiss.

 

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