If there is such a thing as a typical Midwest farmer, Fred Yoder may be it. He's a fifth generation farmer from Plain City, OH, who grows corn, soybeans and wheat on 1,100 acres that he both cash rents and share rents. He still lives on the family farm and used to have livestock, but when the family labor force left, so did the cows.
As the new National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president, Yoder expects to look for ways farmers of all sizes can survive. “Some people think you have to either get big or get out,” he says. “I like to think we can find ways for the small- and medium-sized farmers to stay profitable, too.”
The changes in agriculture that drive farm expansion won't leave smaller growers unscathed. “They're going to have to change their mind-set,” he says. “You have to be open-minded and willing to accept new opportunities.”
One of the most difficult factors for many 1,100-acre or less farmers to accept is that, unless they have livestock, they're probably under-employed. “Thirty years ago a thousand acres was enough land to keep Dad, me and three hired men,” he says. “But with new technology, equipment and products like Roundup Ready soybeans, I can farm 1,100 acres, run an independent seed dealership and still have time to be active in commodity groups like NCGA.
“Farmers have to understand that there's not much chance to make a living on a 1,000-acre farm without supplemental income or non-commodity crops,” he says. “You can count on one hand the number of farmers in our area that don't have an outside job or enterprise to go along with their farm.
“If you think the middlemen are making all the money, look for an opportunity to become a middleman. Get more vertically integrated,” he says. “I have 10,000-bu grain bins which are perfect for IP (identity preserved) crops. Most smaller farms have smaller grain bins that work well for segregating industrial corn and specialty soybean crops.”
There are bigger issues that all farmers face, according to Yoder. That includes finding a home for more corn, both nationally and internationally. He sees biofuels as a parade that farmers should jump in front of as much as they can.
“We have an obligation to help in our country's success in reducing its dependence on foreign oil,” he says. “And we need to remember that ethanol only uses about one-third of the corn's value.
“We need to find ways to make dry, distillers grains as valuable as ethanol,” Yoder adds. “We should think of it as a co-product with ethanol production, rather than a by-product of it.”
It's that type of vision that will help corn growers nationwide, says Rick Tolman, NCGA chief executive officer. “Fred has demonstrated his leadership abilities as well as his knowledge of corn grower issues at both the state and national levels,” Tolman notes. “As president, he will work diligently to maximize the many opportunities and overcome challenges that lie ahead for the corn industry.”
As a leader, Yoder sees himself as a consensus builder rather than a desk thumper. “In agriculture, we seem too willing to talk about differences rather than how we're alike,” he says. “There are always some things we can agree on and some we never will. Lets work on what we agree on, look at the big picture, and let the rest go until it's more appropriate. We're stronger together.”