In October, two Nebraska corn growers will take on roles within the National Corn Growers Association, bringing their experience from Nebraska Corn Growers Association and Nebraska Corn Board to the national policy stage.
Brandon Hunnicutt of Giltner was elected to NCGA's Corn Board, while Lynn Chrisp of Hastings was ratified as the first vice president of NCGA. Both roles will begin on Oct. 1. Both come from strong ag backgrounds, operating centennial farms and serving on NCB and NeCGA in different capacities.
While Chrisp grew up on a farm in Custer County, he began farming the centennial farm, which has been in wife Michele's family since the 1880s, in 1975. Hunnicutt's family's farm was honored as a centennial farm in the early 2000s, and he and his wife, Lisa, have been back on the farm for 19 years, where they farm with Hunnicutt's brother, Zach, and dad, Daryl.
Through the years, they've worn a number of different hats serving corn growers. Chrisp has been involved as a director in NeCGA since the early 1990s. Hunnicutt has been involved since the mid-2000s, when he served as vice president and president. Since then, he's served as a member of the Nebraska Corn Board, chair of NCGA's Grower Services Action Team and vice chair of NCGA's Freedom to Operate Action Team.
As the two take on these national roles, both Hunnicutt and Chrisp note the world's farmers and consumers are changing — and that means there's a need to bring new perspectives to the table, whether telling agriculture's story, or discussing policy.
New challenges in ag
Both NeCGA and NCB, as well as NCGA, are members of Field to Market — an alliance of commodity organizations, universities, private companies, nonprofit organizations and other stakeholders working to identify solutions for sustainability and to quantify what sustainability means. They are also members of the Soil Health Partnership, an organization working to build a network of farms to demonstrate and research the benefits of practices like no-till and cover crops.
And these ongoing efforts are a part of relaying the story of sustainability in agriculture to the consumer.
"With the goal of feeding 9 billion people in a sustainable way and with the urbanization of America, how can we demonstrate we're being good neighbors?" Hunnicutt asks. "Sometimes it's making sure dirt isn't blowing. Other times it's making sure we have clean water. Maybe it's showing we have a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. I think it's outside the norm of what we've thought about for a number of years."
"I think we're going to have to get used to the idea when someone asks why we're sustainable and why we think we are, that we need to give a good, intelligent answer to that question," Chrisp says.
Hunnicutt notes moving forward, technology holds potential in quantifying sustainability and demonstrating that value to the producer and consumer. "Companies are asking about sustainability, and this is the challenge: To get to that point, you've got to make it simple," he says.
This might mean working with Field to Market's Field Print calculator to quantify practices that mitigate soil erosion and runoff, and networking with other farmers through the Soil Health Partnership to quantify those practices and share results.
Chrisp will also be working with NCGA in the policy arena — helping craft the next farm bill, as well as key focus areas outside the farm bill, such as the repeal of Waters of the U.S. and the maintaining Renewable Fuel Standard mandates set by Congress in 2007.
While the demand and supply are in place for the ethanol industry to grow, Chrisp notes one of the key challenges is establishing infrastructure to handle midlevel blends like E25. NCGA, as part of the Ag Auto Ethanol Alliance, is working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to test the capabilities of fuel dispensers and high-octane engine efficiencies in handling these blends.
"That's why we're testing: To validate performance of midlevel blends so there is the opportunity if we get to that point it's going to be something the public wants," he says. "We want a performance fuel in a performance vehicle that customers are asking for in car dealerships because they get better gas mileage, and it's cleaner for the environment. When they ask for something, it's market-driven."
"Ethanol is the single biggest development in corn marketing opportunities in my career, outside of livestock. I don't see that changing," says Chrisp. "It's not just about farmer profitability; it has additional virtuous aspects, like reducing reliance on foreign oil and having a cleaner environment. I'm convinced we're no longer going to be able to rely on those virtues. Somewhat like sustainability, we're going to have to prove that engines running on ethanol are cleaner-burning and get better fuel efficiency."
As the policy conversation moves forward, Hunnicutt notes the changing demographics of producers and the consumers they connect with will play a role in the discussion.
"We're seeing this shift into the millennials and now the Gen Z'ers, and now we're talking about how we get them involved," says Hunnicutt. "Diversity is another factor. We're seeing female farmers reaching out to different areas of the country. I think as we're dealing with issues relating to the farm bill, trade or regulation, we need different voices coming to the table — people with that young voice that understand how these issues will affect them for the next four years."