NCGA President Skunes reflects on year of highs and lows

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council welcomed National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Kevin Skunes to its joint board meeting last week. For Skunes, it was an opportunity to recap what was a tumultuous year for NCGA as it worked to overcome federal issues impacting the nation’s corn farmers.

Skunes, who farms in Arthur, N.D., said when his one-year term started last October he envisioned the farm bill would occupy the majority of his efforts. Instead, ethanol and preserving the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) quickly moved to the front burner, with trade soon after becoming a source of worry for corn farmers.

While the ethanol debate is far from resolved, Skunes said he was proud of how NCGA was able to remain strong in negotiations with the Trump Administration, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

A highlight for Skunes came at Commodity Classic in February when he and his team were able to sit down with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and successfully convey the importance of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) to preserving the RFS. Skunes’ message to Perdue was how important RINs were to corn farmers, even if they don’t fully understand their complex function.

“Not every farmer knows what a RIN is, but every corn farmer knows the importance of the ethanol industry,” Skunes said. “They understand any destruction of the RIN market impacts ethanol, so by default it is very important.”

Throughout the ethanol debates, Skunes said he was also proud of the role NCGA was able to play in keeping all pro-ethanol groups in lockstep.

“While the Administration tried to make a deal, corn growers and the ethanol industry all remained in the same camp on what was needed. It was important to keep that united voice,” he said.

Trade also remained top-of-mind for NCGA and the nation’s corn growers. Skunes said he is pleased with the progress that has been made with NAFTA and is optimistic a deal with Canada will be made. He considered NCGA’s steady drumbeat of respectful messaging to both the Trump administration and America’s trade partners a success during negotiations. For example, NCGA joined U.S. Grains Council in trips to both Korea and Mexico for in-person discussions about the importance of both trade agreements. Skunes said he believes those efforts helped keep an eventual agreement alive.

“Preserving these trade agreements was something we worked very hard on over the last year, and obviously it is something that will need to continue,” Skunes said.

Skunes emphasized the last year also featured its share of low moments. Of course, ethanol will continue to be an issue going into the midterm elections and beyond, and the trade environment is also far from resolved.

He pointed out the recent Market Facilitation Program announcement with corn only receiving a penny per bushel was certainly a low point. However, he emphasized the lengths taken by NCGA to stress the impact of tariffs on the corn market, including commissioning a study that showed corn prices dropped 44 cents due to tariffs.

Overall, Skunes said he looks back at his time as president fondly, and was honored to serve in the position.

“I am really excited to be able to say I worked very hard on behalf of our corn growers. I am proud of what we were able to get done, and I hope I was able to do some good.”

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