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Published February 27, 2012, 11:20 AM

Corn riding high

FARGO, N.D. — Bart Schott planted his first corn crop in 1977. Since then, the North Dakota farmer and corn industry leader has watched the crop’s popularity explode across the state. Enthusiasm for the crop in North Dakota and elsewhere on the Northern Plains is particularly strong this spring.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Bart Schott planted his first corn crop in 1977. Since then, the North Dakota farmer and corn industry leader has watched the crop’s popularity explode across the state. Enthusiasm for the crop in North Dakota and elsewhere on the Northern Plains is particularly strong this spring.

Don’t expect corn’s long, upward march to halt anytime soon, if ever, said Schott, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association.

“There’s no turning back,” said Schott, who predicted North Dakota farmers may plant 3 million acres of corn in 2013.

“The economic difference on my farm today is $180 an acre more on corn versus soybeans,” he said. “It (planting corn) is not too difficult a decision.”

Schott was among the speakers Feb. 22 at the North Dakota Corn Growers Association’s annual Cornvention in Fargo, N.D. About 225 people attended.

Agweek also talked with Schott after his presentation at the event.

Schott told attendees that the national association has reached record membership of more than 37,000 farmers.

“We’re the only commodity group that is increasing in membership across the U.S.,” he said.

U.S. farmers are expected to plant about 94 million acres of corn this year, the most since World War II, with many of the additional acres coming in the Upper Midwest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

3 million acres in 2013?

Once, corn in North Dakota was confined to the state’s southeast corner, which received enough moisture and enjoyed a sufficiently long growing season for farmers to raise the crop.

But new, shorter-maturity corn varieties, coupled with attractive prices and wetter conditions since 1993, caused corn production to spread north and west across the state.

The 2.3 million acres planted to corn in 2011 in the state were twice as many as in 2000 and triple as many as in 1993.

Seed shortages for some preferred hybrids will work against corn acreage in the state this year, but North Dakota farmers easily could plant 3 million acres in 2013, Schott said.

“If we get the seed, we’ll be at 3 million next year,” he said.

The seed industry is placing more emphasis on breeding varieties designed for conditions in North Dakota, he said.

More favorable crop insurance also is contributing to corn’s increasing popularity, Schott said.

One example: Corn growers in seven North Dakota counties were granted standard coverage by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency in 2012, according to information from the state Corn Growers Association.

Farmers in Cavalier, Towner, Rolette and Bottineau counties, all in northern North Dakota, and in the west-central counties of Morton, Oliver and Mercer no longer will need to apply for coverage through the written agreement process, the state association said.

The Risk Management Agency concluded that corn producers in the seven counties “had proven corn to be an accepted agronomic practice on their farms,” according to the state association.

“If you can insure it (corn), you’re going to grow it, especially with the early genetics that we have today,” Schott said.

Ethanol, family farm

By 2030, U.S. corn farmers will be harvesting 300 bushels of corn per acre, according to projections by the National Corn Growers Association.

“We’re going to grow our ethanol industry as well. Part of that is because people want a clean-burning, home-grown fuel,” Schott said.

He said he’s proud of the National Corn Growers Association’s involvement with NASCAR in ethanol promotion.

Schott served as the national association’s 2010 to 2011 president, transitioning to chairman on Sept. 30.

As president, “There was a lot of media (to deal with). One day, I did seven radio interviews. I was really tired at the end of that day,” he said.

As chairman, there are far fewer media requests with which to deal, although he still needs to travel frequently, he said.

Schott, a third-generation farmer, credited others with operating the 4,000-acre farm in south-central North Dakota while he’s been away on association business.

“I have my wife, a really good hired man and all three sons involved,” Schott said. Two of the sons farm, while the third is taking over Schott’s seed business.

Schott said he didn’t spend any time planting corn in 2011, although he did help extensively during harvest.

Public perceptions

Schott, 61, will step down as chairman and leave the association’s board of directors on Oct. 1.

But he’ll continue to serve as vice chairman of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

The organization, which consists of more than 50 commodity groups, including the National Corn Growers Association, seeks to improve communications between the people who raise food and the people who buy it.

The alliance has a budget of about $11 million and can do a great deal to improve public perceptions of agriculture, Schott said.

One of Schott’s personal goals is to reduce criticism of so-called factory farms.

“What is a factory farm? For two years I’ve been trying to figure out that one. I still can’t come up with a definition,” Schott said.

“Ninety percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is grown of family farms,” he said.

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