OMAHA (DTN) -- Edison, Ohio, farmer John Linder is stepping in as president of the National Corn Growers Association during a challenging time for agriculture.
COVID-19 has hurt demand for ethanol, a trade war with China has stymied export markets for commodities, and ongoing battles with the EPA to maintain the Renewable Fuel Standard have hurt demand for ethanol and corn.
Linder, his brother, Mike, and John's wife, Cheryl, operate a fifth-generation farm of about 3,000 acres in central Ohio. They grow corn, soybeans, seed beans and soft red winter wheat.
Like most farmers, Linder said he hopes his grandchildren will someday run the farm.
"So, we're looking for the younger generations to continue," he said. "By the way, my mother is 93 and still living on the farm, gets on a zero-turn lawn mower to mow our yard. I hope I am at least half that good."
Linder will step into a key role for farmers in advocating for all things Renewable Fuel Standard.
Working as an advocate for the RFS is nothing new for an NCGA president, but Linder said he intends to stay after the EPA when it comes to the small-refinery exemptions program.
The Trump administration has granted 85 exemptions since 2016. Three small refineries lost a legal case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in the program, as the court determined the EPA mishandled exemptions granted to the companies. As a result, ethanol and agriculture groups continue to push the agency to implement the court decision nationally.
Linder said he has had good communications with EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and other agency personnel as part of his experiences as president of the National Corn Growers Association board and foundation.
"I'm pleasantly impressed," Linder said of the EPA during a news conference on Thursday. "They are open to our conversations and our dialogue. I've had a conference call with Administrator Wheeler, I met the administrator when we were in Ohio on a farm this year, and next week, I got an opportunity to meet with Wheeler here again on a farm in Ohio. I found the administrator to be friendly."
At one point during the economic shutdown from COVID-19, more than half of all ethanol plants were either idled or scaled back production.
Many plants continue to be offline.
"It's tough, it really is," Linder said. "Plants are feeling a lot of pain, and we're really looking at every avenue we can to support them and work very closely with their associations. It's a great market for us; it's great for the U.S. economy. We really need to get them all back into full service."
HELPING AG RECOVER
The economic shutdown from COVID-19 has led many people across the country to conduct business virtually.
Once harvest is complete, Linder said he hopes to start meeting members face to face, helping to chart the future.
"For some of those, plans might be to simply stay afloat, while others see opportunities to expand our operations, wherever you may be on that continuum," he said.
"There will be no stone left unturned in our efforts to create opportunities for our industry to recover and grow beyond the current situation, our road to recovery has multiple paths. In the short term, we are working on a recovery plan with representatives of our value chain that's designed to set the table for some of the longer-term opportunities."
Linder said his focus will be on increasing sales of higher ethanol blends, selling corn in areas of the world such as southeast Asia, and in strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. corn by leveraging the sustainability of U.S. corn to build preference for products.
In addition, there continues to be a need for improving infrastructure in rural areas, he said.
Although the upcoming presidential election could mean a change in administrations and in key agencies such as the EPA, Linder said the outcome won't change NCGA's approach on the important issues.
"You know, it's like putting a portrait in a different frame: The issues are the same, conversations are the same; the path forward probably needs a little tweaked," he said.
"This is normal business. I wouldn't try to characterize this as being entirely negative one side and positive on the other. We just have our challenges, and we'd take them one day at a time and one challenge at a time."
Recent government data shows farmers across the country report a large share of their income came from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
CFAP 2 was recently announced, providing about $14 billion in additional farm assistance coming down the pike.
While the payments have been helpful, Linder said, NCGA will be looking at a variety of way to continue to help struggling producers.
"You know, I don't believe that there's any amount of dollars that can make farmers whole that you could actually justify Congress coming up with it," he said.
"It's a combination of everything will get us through this. But rest assured the idea that every farmer out there and every corn producer out there really is working toward his self-sustainability. We really don't need anything beyond our safety nets to keep us whole."
Linder said he will work on having NCGA board members get out to the countryside in the coming year to meet with members.
"It's just kind of difficult in this current environment," he said.
"I'd really like for folks to feel like we're approachable, we want to hear what's going on. I would have to say, like most people, the opportunity to get face to face again -- this is probably one of the premier things that we all feel a great deal of reward."
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @toddneeleyDTN
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