New National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Garry Niemeyer knows firsthand how difficult it is to mold a farm bill. Now, says the Auburn, IL, farmer leader, “it’s more difficult because of the budget deficit.”
As the new head wrangler for NCGA, Niemeyer’s biggest challenge during his tenure, which begins Oct. 1, is making sure that America’s corn growers get their fair share with the new Farm Bill working its way through Congress.
“I feel like we’re handcuffed on the Farm Bill. We’re trying to make strategic decisions, but other issues are affecting ag and sometimes we don’t know what to expect next,” he says.
“When it comes to the Farm Bill we want to do our part but not more than our part,” says Niemeyer, who grows 1,600 acres of corn and 500 acres of soybeans. He’s also had lambs, hogs and cattle, and knows the plight of the livestock sector. For the last five years, however, he’s only grown crops.
“Garry brings an attitude of ‘never give up’ on tough issues,” says Bart Schott, immediate past president from Kulm, ND. “Looking at this next year, Garry’s a seasoned leader in policy making in D.C. And with the new Farm Bill talks, corn growers can be confident that he’ll stay the best course for our benefit.”
Niemeyer says: “We took a $6 billion hit in crop insurance and want that accounted for in the next Farm Bill. We’re just hoping cuts to agriculture will come through the House and Senate Ag committees, not from the floor.
“We’d like to transition direct payments into more risk management tools like crop insurance and ACRE. ACRE has been successful, but we’re going to try and tweak it with some new provisions,” he says. “We feel that risk-management tools are things we’ll have to have to weather storms such as unpredictable climate changes, crop pests and market volatility.”
But hand in hand with working on the Farm Bill, he’ll also be focusing on ethanol issues and trying to raise the blend rate up to E15.
“There’s so much fear with ethanol even though it’s environmentally sound, reduces greenhouse gases and reduces our dependence on foreign oil,” he says. “Too often we’re made out to be the culprit when we’re part of the solution.”
He’s a big supporter of using NASCAR to promote ethanol and says, “Where else could you get 75 million fans looking at ethanol printed on a race car every weekend. If Kenny Wallace (driver) says it’s good, people listen. It’s that simple,” he says.
According to USDA, about 40% or 5.1 billion bushels of the corn crop is used for ethanol. “Actually, when you factor in DDGs, a byproduct of ethanol production used for livestock feed, only 27% of the crop, or 3.9 billion bushels, are used for ethanol. The other 13% becomes DDGs,” Niemeyer explains. “When I’m lobbying it’s difficult to explain those facts. It would be more transparent if future USDA reports reflected the DDGs component.”
Niemeyer’s convinced that the U.S. can produce ample amounts of corn for both feed and fuel. Still, he says, “It’s our focus to produce as much corn as we possibly can.”
As an example, he points to last year’s 7,000 entrants in the NCGA corn yield contest where all the winners had over 300 bu./acre yields.
“U.S. farmers have the potential to grow yields substantially,” he says. “By 2030, according to biotech providers, we expect national corn yields to average a whopping 280 bu./acre.”
Educating the public is a constant battle for corn growers, and the fight continues every day. “So we need to get the message out that we’ve about doubled our production since 1980 on the same amount of acres,” Niemeyer says. “In 1980 we had 84 million acres that produced 6.6 billion bushels. In 2010 we had 88 million acres that produced 12.4 billion bushels. It’s all come about by using new technology, from plant populations to seed to fertilizer,” he says.
Niemeyer uses his on-farm example where in 1980 he applied 1.2 lbs. of N/acre and now he’s down to .79 lbs./acre. “Technology is essential in everything we do. It’s a passion for me to help supply safe food to the world.”
If you want to get him worked up, though, just ask him about infrastructure, specifically improving locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
More than 15 years ago, when he was elected a director of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, he made it clear that the he was committed to solving the lock-and-dam issue. And he’s still devoted to it.
“They’re in terrible shape and held together with Band-Aids and baling wire,” he admits. “We’re going to keep working at it, despite the economy. I’m hoping to make something happen with this issue during my presidency.”