Rick Ostlie, ASA Northwood, ND

Rick Ostlie gushes with enthusiasm when he talks about his new job as president of the American Soybean Association (ASA). “I'm just optimistic by nature,” says the Northwood, ND, farmer who can't wait to begin tackling issues that face soybean farmers. “Sometimes it may seem like I want to move too quickly, but I'll make sure I don't jump the gun.”

Ostlie, who farms with his wife Cheryl and son Richie, was one of the first back in 1981 to grow soybeans in his area of North Dakota. He now operates a 3,000-acre operation, mostly planted to seed beans, spring wheat and some corn.

He officially took the reins of the soybean commodity association on July 11 and says he's honored to be chosen as ASA president, humbled that a regular guy from North Dakota can be elected to this position and passionate about the future of farming.

He's especially optimistic about the long-term use of biodiesel because “it's a superior fuel.” But he's nearly as enthusiastic about all the new uses being found for beans.

“From biodiesel to protein to oil to food, the list goes on and on,” says Ostlie about all the value being found for soybeans. And he's particularly happy to represent farmers who he believes grow the highest quality beans in the world.

The big issues in his coming tenure are:

  1. Farm bill

    “We at ASA have a responsibility to farmers that we're ready and prepared to be at the table when the farm bill is written,” Ostlie says.

    He thinks the new bill will be quite different from the old because of federal budget constraints and the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations. He expects it to be more tuned to conservation and renewable fuels. “It doesn't make sense to send money to the Mideast for oil and have it return as terrorism,” he says.

  2. WTO

    Ostlie says ASA needs to continue working toward getting more market access for commodity soybeans. He points to India and Brazil as examples. “India has a huge tariff on imported soybean oil. And Brazil has special concessions on exports to the European Union because they have a developing country status. We need that market access before we give up our domestic support programs.”

  3. Biodiesel

    Ostlie says he sees nothing but an “upward cycle” when it comes to biodiesel. He uses B20 in all his farm equipment. “My machinery runs better, smokes less and mechanically lasts longer,” he says. “I absolutely believe farmers should invest in biodiesel plants. It's an investment in their future. The same goes for ethanol. Get in the value-added chain.”

    He's not worried, however, about producing enough soybeans to fuel the growing biodiesel market. “As biodiesel demand grows, we may even see some CRP acres come back into production. But, we must remain environmentally responsible and take a hard look at eligible acres in that program.”

    Ostlie is not a stranger to expansion of soybean acres. He points to North Dakota where in 1988 it grew 400,000 acres of soybeans. This year, it hit about 4 million acres, and he thinks it will continue to grow until it levels off at 5-6 million acres.

  4. Asian soybean rust

    “We've been better prepared for rust than we ever thought,” says Ostlie, who a year ago traveled to Brazil to see the deadly disease first hand. “But we have to stay alert and be vigilant. And we have to work with government and industry to find resistant varieties.

“It's a long-term process to find resistance. When we do, then we'll have to worry about rust mutating, like we experience with wheat,” he says. “I don't think we'll ever have a truly resistant variety and that's why we need government money to keep research going.”

Ostlie likes working on the big issues in agriculture and is downright excited about its future. “Farmers starting today will have so many opportunities with biotechnology and renewable fuels,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”

As new ASA president, the industry is getting a leader with great organizational skills, says Bob Metz, Browns Valley, MN, farmer and immediate past president of ASA.

“Rick's got a good grasp of the issues and I look forward to working with him, especially on the upcoming farm bill,” says Metz, who is also chairman of the ASA board.

“Although I'm humble, I'm confident in my abilities,” Ostlie says. “But I also know others' knowledge is valuable, so I'll get my marching orders from the farmer members of ASA.”

Ken McCauley, NGCA White Cloud, KS

Ask the new president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) what gets him jazzed and you get a quick reply: the farm bill. “I'm excited about being in on writing the new bill, but it will also be my biggest challenge,” says Ken McCauley, who farms 4,000 acres of corn and soybeans in northeast Kansas with his wife Mary and son Brad. “I think we can make the new bill better and I think the ethanol market has helped set us up to do that. Still, we need a safety net for those unforeseen problems.”

McCauley firmly believes the major commodity organizations need to be on the same page. He also thinks NCGA needs to pay attention to their livestock customers and the price they pay for feed. “We're concerned about livestock and feel that we can produce enough corn or DDGs for their future needs,” he says.

On the ethanol front, “We're headed for a bigger industry than we thought and I'm not so sure petroleum prices will affect it all that much,” McCauley says. “With new technology, we're going to make our ethanol production process more efficient all the time. Right now, 1 bu. of corn produces close to 3 gal. of ethanol. I think we can get that up to 4 gal. in the future at an even cheaper cost.”

Today, about 18% of the corn crop is used to produce almost 5 billion gallons of ethanol — depending on yield. McCauley expects that to be 15 billion bushels by 2015.

“It's exciting being in this leadership position now as we become more energy efficient,” he says. “I think ethanol has created new market opportunities which means better profit from the market and less reliance on the government safety net.”

On transportation issues, McCauley is confident that the work on solving the snarled barge traffic on the Mississippi River has been resolved. Locks and dams will now be extended so tows will be able to pass through without separating, making transportation faster and cheaper.

“We're going to continue working on the lock-and-dam issue and rails to secure future transportation needs for farmers,” he says.

On value-added enterprises, getting farmers to invest in more than just land is a passion for McCauley. “The good news is that farmers actually have investments in ethanol plants that are paying off. It's a good value-added investment and it will help make a big difference in rural areas. We at NCGA want even more farmers to invest in ethanol plant operations.”

Expanding NCGA membership is going to be a tough go this year, especially with fewer farmers as machinery gets bigger and management practices improve. But it's an issue McCauley says he's committed to addressing.

“We just have to work harder at getting new members,” he says. “I think we can do that with stronger involvement from our farmers. For example, our successes in the past year with locks and dams and ethanol should encourage more involvement from members.”

Working hard isn't anything new to McCauley, past chairman of the Kansas corn checkoff. “After bringing Kansas corn growers together, helping bring states together nationally should be something I'm good at,” he says.

Gerald Tumbleson, Sherburn, MN, who ends his term as NCGA president Oct. 1, says: “Ken understands the whole process of how to make an organization work. He'll be good at facilitating what the organization wants and in building consensus among members.”

Getting along well with people and knowing NCGA policies are what McCauley thinks will help make him a good leader. “My gut reaction to a problem is to go back to grassroots producers for answers. In fact, I'm excited about leading this group and I think my best quality as a leader is to remember what it was like when I wasn't on any association board at all.”