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Episode 42: From Ohio Fields to Global Leadership with John Linder

During the peak of the pandemic, Ohio corn farmer, John Linder, had to quickly find a way to embrace technology and balance the demands of agriculture on his farm with his commitment to leadership roles on association boards. Where he might have once needed to take a flight and leave the farm for a few days, he was now figuring out how to take Zoom calls from the cab of his tractor, all while planting. Prioritizing being a hands-on farmer and an engaged member is just one of the many ways John has continued to be a successful grower and an effective leader.

From serving on the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association board to eventually becoming chairman of the National Corn Growers Association and currently serving as president of the International Maize Alliance, John has a deep history in board membership. As a testament to the dedication required to make a difference in agriculture, John provides valuable insight into how beginning farmers can be successful. Here’s a recap of the key pillars that have shaped his successful agriculture career.

Build Relationships
John emphasizes the importance of building strong relationships in farming and leadership. He points out that first-time farmers often bring a fresh perspective, unburdened by the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality. He advises, “Don’t lose your objectivity and really be critical of yourself.” By continuously evaluating and improving your approach to farming, you can be more successful.

Find a Mentor
John credits much of his success in leadership roles to the guidance of mentors who recognized and nurtured his potential. He encourages young farmers not to shy away from seeking mentors, saying, “Don’t be afraid to look for that mentor. That’s always a really good tool.” Mentors can help you cultivate your skills and navigate the challenges of farming.

Engage in Association Work
John’s journey through leadership positions in associations was built on being significantly active and involved. He advises, “If you’re going to step up, you really need to engage.” Being actively involved in agriculture associations, not only will contribute to your personal growth but also allows you to make your voice heard and influence important industry decisions.

Continue Education
John advocates for ongoing learning and seeking expertise when needed. He suggests not waiting to acquire new skills, saying, “Anticipate that you’re going to have to learn something new and fill your gaps with knowledge.” In the fast-paced, technological world of agriculture, acquiring new skills is vital for success.

John’s wisdom and expertise garnered from years of experience highlight the importance of innovation, learning from others, and actively participating in your industry to thrive.

Here’s a glance at this episode:

  • [01:20] John introduces himself and his background in agriculture and shares a little about one of his hobbies, tractor pulling.
  • [5:17] John chats about how first-time farmers can be successful.
  • [6:12] As a past board member of Ohio Corn and Wheat and the National Corn Growers Association, John shares how he came to be involved and why others should too.
  • [13:46] John describes the commitments of his leadership roles, some of which involve taking Zoom meetings from the cab.
  • [19:58] John explains the background of MAIZALL and its mission to change the narrative around GMO technology in corn, particularly when it comes to trade.
  • [25:00] John discusses how MAIZALL’s collaboration between Argentina, Brazil, and the US plays a crucial role in addressing the political challenges related to the Mexican corn market.
  • [31:18] John highlights the importance of grassroots efforts to advocate for the benefits of agricultural technology.
  • [34:30] John discusses the key issues impacting farmers, including stable market access, input costs and ethanol.
  • [40:57] Envisioning the future of American agriculture, John encourages beginning farmers to create and maintain relationships with mentors and stay informed through association work.
  • [44:09] John offers his parting advice for young and beginning farmers.

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Transcription

Voiceover (00:08):Welcome to AgCredit Said It. In each episode, our hosts sit down with experts from all parts of the agriculture industry to bring you insights and must have information on all things from farming to finances and everything in between.

 

Libby Wixtead (00:28):Welcome back to AgCredit Said It. I'm Libby here with Brenna. How are we today?

 

Brenna Finnegan (00:33):Good, how are you?

 

Libby Wixtead (00:34):I'm doing all right. It was a beautiful morning and drive over here in our Mount Gilead office. And today, we are very lucky to have John Linder with us who is a farmer in Morrow County and is heavily involved in the corn industry. How are you today, John?

 

John Linder (00:49):I'm doing great. It's like I said, with sunshine, we just had some rain.

 

Libby Wixtead (00:54):A million-dollar rain, right?

 

John Linder (00:56):We did. And we've had a couple of those and it looks like August is going to continue and by the time this airs, we'll all know if it worked out as well as it appears at this point. But boy, the market share is responding too, so we'll see how that shakes out.

 

Libby Wixtead (01:08):It's been a plus for the beginning of the week here. John, would you tell us a little bit about you and your family, your farm and your business, and maybe a pulling tractor?

 

John Linder (01:20):Well, it's funny you mentioned a pulling tractor because that's probably how most people know me. My brother Mike and I, because the Linder brothers have a pro stock pulling tractor. I like to tell people we're older than dirt and dumber too because we're still doing it. We've tractor-pulled for 40-some years and that's probably getting close to being a record, but this year not so much. We had a little failure on a dyno back before Louisville and we could have rebuilt it. It wasn't that bad, but it was just one of those things if you're going to bang your head against a wall and repeat this, and we didn't want to do that. We like to put something that stays together.

 

(01:58):It's like farming. We like the one-and-done, although many times we find ourselves saying, "If we're doing it the second time, did we really start?" And we don't want something like that with pulling tractors. So we chose we're going to build a different engine and our engine builders are great. I really appreciate them, but they're not going to get it done this year. They're going to do it while we're harvesting. So there wasn't any pulling for us this summer. We miss it, but I don't know where we find time to do it. We're busy.

 

Libby Wixtead (02:27):Yeah. So will you be ready to go to Louisville then?

 

John Linder (02:29):If they have us, because that's totally invitational. That's our goal. We'll have everything ready to go, but time will tell on that one. But Mike and I started farming as kids. Dad had livestock and crops and I don't know whether it was the dirt clod fights we had or just riding the fender  – the thing you really shouldn't have been doing. Mike and I always liked just being out in the field and try as he might, my dad really never got us to stick to livestock. So we didn’t have a lot of diversity.

 

(02:56):And I'll tell you what, the early '80s were pretty doggone rough. We really thought we should have some diversity and we never found it for a long time. But we do like raising corn, soybeans, and wheat does fit in our rotation, but not every year. Would've been a good one this year but we didn't have any. Crops look pretty good though. We've got some nice corn. Beans, they are so slow. We didn't plant any in April. Wish we would've, but we didn't. The May beans are just progressing slowly. So we'll see how this turns out in the end for the beans, but thankful for that. Thankful to be married to my lovely wife, Cheryl. Gosh, that was 1980, so what's this going to be? 43 years.

 

Brenna Finnegan (03:41):Congratulations.

 

John Linder (03:42):Thank you, thank you. And she's such a delight. She's part of the operation. She does work at school. She's about ready to retire if that gives you an idea of what age I am next year. And so I shouldn't tell on her, but I just did. But it's been really great to have a wife that supports you and we recognize the importance of that. Mike is single, always been single, but he's a great brother, great uncle to my girls and son-in-laws, and he just... It's been a pleasure. I never wanted to farm with anybody but him. And it turns out I never won a tractor pole with anybody but him. But he's single. It's his only hobby. So I ride that tail if you will. That's how that goes. So that's where we're at in Morrow County.

 

Libby Wixtead (04:30):Yeah. What generation did you say your farm is then?

 

John Linder (04:35):Oh, goodness. So we lost Mom last year, but I always put my bio is for corn. I always put five years or fifth generation, I apologize. And mom said, "You're wrong. It's more than that." And I said, "Well, I don't want to look like we came in from the Mayflower." But I don't know. She pulled out the history books and the family history a bit and yeah, it goes beyond six.

 

Libby Wixtead (04:58):So you guys have a long history here?

 

John Linder (05:00):Not always in the same location, but for a lot of years, yes. We've been rooted here in Morrow County.

 

Brenna Finnegan (05:05):You don't hear that very often about families making it that long in the industry. We talked a little bit before about smaller farms getting swallowed up by the big ones.

 

John Linder (05:17):But there is an encouraging note for a first-time farmer. They're not encumbered with the inhibitions that we have. We've always done it that way. And I've watched a lot of fellows even my age that were first-time farmers and they really are probably a little more successful because they really aren't afraid to look at everything and judge it critically. So another little piece of advice for a beginning farmer: Don't lose your objectivity and really be critical of yourself and hold yourself to standards that maybe I failed to. And we always did that way and that always worked, right?

 

Libby Wixtead (05:55):Yeah. You don't have Grandpa there at the end of the field flashing his lights at you.

 

John Linder (05:59):That's right, that's right.

 

Brenna Finnegan (06:01):Now, they play games as to who's going to turn the lights on first.

 

John Linder (06:05):It pays to turn them on early. That transition is so smooth if the lights are already on.

 

Brenna Finnegan (06:10):That is true. Very true.

 

Libby Wixtead (06:11):Right.

 

Brenna Finnegan (06:12):So can you share with us a little bit about your journey and how you became a board member for the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers and also with the National Corn Growers Association?

 

John Linder (06:24):I'd be glad to. And it's a case where when you volunteer, you always actually like to be asked. And I was asked, and I'll back up a little bit. Not everyone probably knows it, but in the mid-'90s I was on the AgCredit board and I really, really enjoyed that. Really well-run association. The board was phenomenal. I learned more than I think I gave, but I really enjoyed it. Successful for two, three-year terms. And the third one, I was unsuccessful, and that stung a little. I got to experience that.

 

(07:00):Well, we had that in tractor pulling too, where you get those humbling moments. And I always told myself, "Well, turnover is a good thing." There's an opportunity for someone else, some new perspectives. So that was a good thing. But probably the last thing I remember is, I forget the term in years, but I remember Y2K. We were all worried about whether our computers would crash when the calendar year turned, and well, they didn't. There was a lot of prep work. So today the biggest thing I worry about on the computer is that I don’t want to reboot right before I get on a Zoom.

 

Brenna Finnegan (07:31):Or update.

 

John Linder (07:34):Update, exactly. So we got past the calendar piece there, but that was my experience with AgCredit. But I decided, and Cheryl and I talked about this as we raised our daughters, you really want to be engaged. No one's looking for someone just to warm a seat. Nobody's looking for a filler. If you're going to step up, you really need to engage. And so I thought I'll just sit back and reflect, see what opportunities come, and not worry about it. And so, I didn't. So I was surprised one day when my neighbor, Anthony Bush, stopped by and he said, "Have you ever thought about being on board with Ohio Corn and Wheat?" And I said, "No, I really hadn't. Tell me about it." And I probably took over a year to decide because I thought, "Do you really want to commit?" I knew what it meant to be on the board with AgCredit and it's so meaningful if you actually put yourself into it and you’ll get a lot of reward.

 

(08:25):So I thought, "Well, do I want to give this so much effort?" And so I talked with Cheryl and talked with the family. I decided I would do that. At that time, there were actually three boards, the small grains checkoff, the corn checkoff, which is a core marketing program board, and the association, and clearly different and distinct because of the checkoff contributions farmers give for their own betterment in their industry. You can't use that to lobby. So that's where the association comes in and it's predominantly driven by membership and that's why I'd really like to see other people take the opportunity to become members because it brings great value and there are perks that actually pay for it in the membership. So it's free. You do have to write a check, but in real terms, monetarily or compensated with sponsorships within the industry. But I'd pay out of pocket without any compensation to be a member.

 

(09:31):It's easy for me to say because I've been part of it. Because Anthony asked me, I got to serve on the checkoff and I did that for three successful terms of three years, so nine years. I chaired it for a couple of years and got to be a board member again, which is really rewarding to actually be in the front of the room and then get to take a seat at the table again and just watch other people and how they bring everybody together and how they use their leadership style. So it was really rewarding there. At that point, I had the opportunity when I first got on the marketing board to take some leadership opportunities and I did that. It was sponsored by Syngenta, it was leadership at its best and it was a great program. I met growers from other states that were just new on boards and they also had advanced leadership and I had the good fortune of getting to take all that.

 

(10:30):And so as luck would have it, like I said, I was asked to actually become the chairman in being vice chairman. I did take that opportunity after checking with the family, I told the current president at that time, and I said, "I need to run that up the family flagpole." See if they really want me to do one more thing. And he said, "We got over the weekend, I want to know Monday." So talked to the family and they said, "Yeah, we'll support you in that." So that was a good two years. And I do like trade and biotechnology is dear to everyone's operation so everyone would understand why I would find that a fit. But we took a little higher lift in trade and we started a trade school that's still going on. And so we did elevate that a bit.

 

(11:15):And after completing two years as chairperson there, I decided, "If you're ever going to run for the national board, now is the time because everybody knows you. You've given speeches in front of the delegate body on reports, on what the committee's doing, and you're a known entity and that's how you find your way, your path forward." So I did and was successful and got on the board. And after three years of that, I thought I think I could run for leadership here. And obviously, encouraged and coached and mentored all the way through all this process in Ohio, at national. So I was successful in becoming an officer and really, really enjoyed that. But I was under COVID, so there was very little travel, and a lot of Zoom, got proficient. My office looked like a set on a play because I made sure the facade behind me looked appropriate, but the rest of the room might be cluttered.

 

Brenna Finnegan (12:18):Oh, we've done that before too. The webinars we've had in the past.

 

John Linder (12:19):That's right. So learned how to use Zoom in a really good way. And I stopped for lunch one day and I realized I was on three different meetings in three different states and I couldn't have done that in an airplane. So it was very effective. And so I realized, "This is okay." And we got along good, and did well under COVID. So it was really fun to be chairman as we rolled out of COVID as the past president and it was very rewarding to be on the National Corn Growers.

 

(12:48):We had another position that we needed to fill, which we typically fill with a past officer, and that was a director on the MAIZALL Alliance. And so that's currently where I'm at with national, just an appointment with the MAIZALL Alliance, and that international alliance is with Brazil and Argentina. And we predominantly talk about tariff trade barriers and we try to conduct educational why the science is right and why the science got it right and why farmers use these practices to be sustainable. So that is currently where I'm at. Also, though I did move over to the association in Ohio after terming off the checkoff so I could remain connected well with Ohio. So it's always dear and near to you, the home state, but you understand the issues better if you're working closely with the board.

 

Brenna Finnegan (13:46):Before we dive into more about MAIZALL, I wanted to ask when joining these boards and taking on that leadership role, how much of a time commitment does that take for a person to take part in all of that?

 

John Linder (14:01):So that's really interesting because the standing joke with most volunteer work is the number of meetings per year. So it's only four meetings a year, right? Only four, right? But we all know what that leads to and one is on the board at AgCredit. I was asked to track, my number of days and a memo with it, and it was like 32 to 35. So I was used to being out and away from home a little bit and a little bit of travel. So this wasn't much different. But once you get to be an officer at the national level, that is a big lift. It was different for me, but the typical officer would've been gone from home 180 days a year.

 

Libby Wixtead (14:46):Oh, wow. And I know I just came from the Ag Hall of Fame Breakfast at the state fair and one of the recipients had said, it's really hard to stop the tractor when it's a beautiful day outside to be planting when you have a meeting or something going on. But when something's so close and near and dear to your heart, you just have to make time for it.

 

John Linder (15:09):You do, you do. But at National Corn and Ohio Corn and Wheat, really tried to leave the grower leaders alone during planting and harvest. And the reason we try to let those folks have their harvest time is because many don't have that much help at home. I was very fortunate. I had my brother, I had my wife, I had my kids, so I could slip away if I needed to and I did some, but for the most part, you didn't have to. But there are ways to manage those things. I, as president, we were having a board meeting, it was going to be Zoom, it was in May, our May board meeting, and I've attended those while planting before on the phone.

 

Brenna Finnegan (15:52):I was just going to say that I'm pretty sure this is the one or two groups out of the country probably that would understand if there was the planter in the background and buzzers going off, right?

 

John Linder (16:04):one of my assignments for, I got to be an officer. I got to be the finance chair of National Corn Growers. And so I always had to give a report. So I'm prepping the planter, filling fertilizer, greasing, and I'm talking with my headset on, giving a finance report because I do tend to throw myself into the numbers. I enjoy that. So it was easy. I didn't have to have notes. I could just talk through it. And I thought, "Wow, I just pulled that off and I didn't make any mistakes that I knew of." And so I talked to our treasurer after that and I said, "Did I misquote anything?" She said, "No, you actually got it all right." And I said, "Were you able to hear me?" "Yeah, that headset is pretty good." But I tried to stay away from the gas engines running in the diesel tractor just so we didn't have that noise.

 

(16:52):But to further that, in another meeting in May, I was president conducting the meeting and it was on Zoom and I was planting corn and I set up another iPad. We have iPads in our tractors, and most people do. But I set up another and I videoed in. I knew I was planting a farm where I had a good cell signal, so I called in to keep the bandwidth good on the iPad. So the video was good. And we met with then ag chair Scott from the House Ag Committee, and he was just thrilled that I was out there planting so he could see everything I was doing and he could see the planter in the back. And when I was turning, and I told Chairman Scott, I said, "Not everybody is old enough on this committee, but you and I are on this meeting. You and I are old enough to know what I mean when I said I never felt more like Eddie Albert than today."

 

(17:46):And some of the young guys are thinking, "Eddie Albert? Yeah." You'll have to look it up. I'm just going to bait you with that one. Yeah, I'm not even going to close that one. He laughed and I said, "But I got things started, warmed up and I had a hydraulic leak." But wouldn't you know, Mr. Haney stopped by and he had no ring on his truck. And so it, Greenacre, a television show, and Mr. Haney was the guy that went buy and sold everything. And Eddie Albert was a farmer that moved from New York and always wore a suit because I had a jacket and tie on. Believe me, my “hired hands”, my family were taking pictures and laughing and I still, but Chairman Scott got a photo of he and I on Zoom and I was in tractor planting and he really, really appreciated that.

 

Brenna Finnegan (18:33):Well, you were in a suit and tie at that time, right?

 

John Linder (18:34):I was. Well, I had jeans and work shoes on, but I did have a jacket and a tie. I thought, I've got to remember Congress, I've got to dress up. And so I pulled it off, got it done. And that was the meeting where we asked him because there was consideration for a stepped-up basis and we asked him what that meant to him. And it was very near to him too because he's about small farmers and diversity as you can imagine. And he says, "What can I do?" And we asked him to send a letter to the president saying why we can't have stepped-up basis for the family farm, and he did. And it was all a Zoom meeting while I was planting. So you can be very effective and be a farmer and be engaged. And with today's technology, it can happen anywhere. It seems ominous, but it's not as difficult to be effective as a farmer. And so yeah, I'd love for anyone listening to this and thought they might get involved, I'd encourage you to.

 

Brenna Finnegan (19:41):We could tell everybody we're sitting near a tractor right now if you want.

 

John Linder (19:44):That's right.

 

Brenna Finnegan (19:48):But no, that's good to know. That's something to keep in mind every time we have a meeting and our surroundings. That's right. And what effect it might you have on the outcome of everything.

 

Libby Wixtead (19:58):I'm thinking of people getting involved. I don't think a lot of maybe young farmers or even farmers in Ohio would know what the MAIZALL board is and how it impacts them here in Ohio and even in the US. What are some things that you guys are working on with MAIZALL?

 

John Linder (20:19):Well, sure. Let me give you a little background on MAIZALL. It is an alliance, it is incorporated and has bylaws and it was begun I think May of 2013. So I think it's about 10 years old. And the alliance began with the US, Brazil, and Argentina, and it's a National Corn Grower Association and US Grains Council. In the US there are four directors from the US, two come from the Grains Council, and two come from National Corn Growers. Then in Brazil and Argentina, they come from their corn associations, which the one is Maizar and the other is ABIMILHO. So there are 12 seated directors at all times. And then we have a consultant advisor that works for us under hire and really a tremendous asset. And what it really set out to do was change the narrative on GMO technology and not let it be a trade barrier.

 

(21:24):Because if someone wants to import corn and they don't follow the science and know that all GMO is really safe and it's been proven to be safe, and they say, "Well, we don't want GMO, we want non GMO." Well, that raises the cost of the goods that they're trying to purchase. So it becomes a barrier for trade. That was the premise for it. Now, it's expanded a bit. I can assure you the mission creep will kill any good organization. We're very true to our mission. And the beginning mission was actually farmers' tools that are innovative and not to let them be a trade barrier. We don't sell corn or that is not what we do and we don't promote one country over another. What we do is tell the story that we actually represent 50% of the corn farmers in the world with these three countries, and 70 plus percent of the world's exportable corn is represented by MAIZALL and the US, Brazil, and Argentina, 70% plus of the world's exportable corn represented of those three countries.

 

(22:38):So it's, how do I say, a real benefit to any trade that we try to perform in this country, any trade agreement, any sales that we try to do through US Grains Council and promoting the US corn because we can support the technology that farmers embrace and use. And we all really like to tell the story. And 95% plus of the corn raised in Brazil, 95% plus. So the corn raised in Argentina, 95 plus percent of corn raised in the US all use the same types of technology. Now we may use different events in our topic, they're going to be fighting insects more than we are and different ones, but it's still about technology. It is still the new breeding innovation, the gene editing products that are coming online. Those are the things that we really try to get in the conversation in foreign countries and set the record straight and tell, "Why we do it. Why do farmers do this?"

 

(23:46):It is economics, but it's a social benefit of being able to sustainably produce an abundant supply. So the world is never short and it's also sustainable to our environment. Without these tools, we have to do more tillage. We really aren't as environmentally friendly as we want to be. So we really need to maintain these tools and have folks understand why it's safe for us to do this and why it's particularly advantageous for us to use less chemicals, less herbicide technology, less insecticides with the use of the plant having the ability to ward off this natural best, if you will.

 

Libby Wixtead (24:29):I think it's really neat that normally with the US, Brazil is our biggest competitor and so you normally don't want to do things with your competitor, but it's nice to know that we are working together with them to work with other countries to be able to export our grain and sell our grain to other countries. So you are the president, correct, of the board?

 

John Linder (24:54):Yes.

 

Libby Wixtead (24:54):Well, congratulations.

 

John Linder (24:55):Thank you.

 

Libby Wixtead (24:55):That's very neat.

 

John Linder (24:57):As of July 1st for a year.

 

Libby Wixtead (25:00):Okay, so just became president then. So I guess what is the biggest, the number one topic that you guys or issue that you guys are going to be working on for this next year? Is there any one thing or are there a couple of things within the industry in the countries that you guys are all working on other than just promoting your mission?

 

John Linder (25:24):Well, you can imagine. Like I said, we don't sell corn. We don't pit one another against that and we don't go out and that's not our goal. What we do is try to help folks understand the science behind the safety of the products and why it's abundant and why it's sustainable. So I think everyone would understand. If I said Mexico, we went there in August, about a year ago, went to Mexico City and US Grains Council is a partner with National Corn Growers. It's the corn checkoff that helped fund it. It is phenomenal. There's a 25-to-one return on every dollar that's invested with Grains Council and the value that it produces. So it's a wonderful attribute for us. MAIZALL is a real benefit to Grains Council's work because they were in Mexico trying to help folks understand why US corn is safe in the form it's in. Why we don't need to be worried about banning the technology and wanting a non GMO product.

 

(26:30):And they couldn't get into meetings that they really should get into because it's a political decision that's being made. There's no science behind it. Even our government, our Ag Secretary Vilsack, the USDR has asked, "Okay, give us what science you're using for the basis of this decision?" And they've never come up with a good answer. So we know it's all political. So we thought as it is a trade issue, maybe we should leave that to the Grains Council. But quickly we realized that MAIZALL could make a difference. So the farmers, its farmer led, so you understand that it's farmers from Argentina, Brazil, and the US requested meetings with folks in Mexico and we got into meetings that no one else could get into and I forget the number of meetings they had, but they were really a pleasure to take.

 

(27:23):And thankfully, at that time, the president at that time, because it rotates every year between the three countries was from Argentina, speaks Spanish, has that Latin flare to his delivery and a little boisterous and you like listening to him. Federico's a great guy and he did a really great job, but those folks could hear it in their language firsthand. And we did have interpreters for those that didn't. But meeting after meeting, he shared with them why if you want 17 million metric tons of corn, it needs to be the corn you're buying because you cannot get the corn you're thinking you want the non GMO from Argentina, you can't get it from Brazil and you can't get it from the US. And here in Argentina, you might as well continue to buy from the US. I never thought I'd see that happen and I was there and he did that repeatedly in Mexico.

 

(28:25):When we told him that what they're after they couldn't obtain. And most of the corn that they buy certainly tortillas, it's a big conversation, right? They like white corn for that. They'd like to be sustainable in that and be non GMO, but they can't get across the mountains into the Yucatan Peninsula where they grow the corn to where they need corn, the white corn. It's much easier and more cost-effective for them to buy white corn from the US and that's what they've been doing. So that's still an ongoing conversation. Why is the GMO white corn from the US really still safe and a good option? But most of the 17 million metric ton that they buy, incidentally, to put that into terms, I don't think we raised 17 million metric tons in Ohio. If my math is right, I think it's like 617 million bushels and I think that falls short of 17 million metric tons.

 

(29:24):So if you lose the Mexican market, why is the work that MAIZALL is doing important? If you lose Mexican market, you've got all of the Ohio's production to find a home for. Now you're sitting there thinking, "But my corn goes to the livestock or goes to ethanol, what do we care?" Because somewhere else they will be able to fill that because they don't have... They shipped to Mexico, but now they have to ship somewhere else, they can put a train, send it to Ohio, and your basis goes down. So it does affect us because it's corn in all forms, but it's all of our corn, it's the aggregate of how we market our corn. Like I said, the three countries represent 70% of the world's exportable corn, and we're a big part of that. Take 17 million metric tons out of the picture, you’v got a problem.

 

(30:19):So MAIZALL leaned in, got meetings that no one else could take, shared with them that they really need the corn that they're buying and they switched their policy a bit. That it's okay to buy that corn to make meat protein. Now we're still talking about tortillas, but maybe we all can take a step back. Now we've got ASCO back, and Federico actually presented to farmers and some grain buyers and users in Mexico after our meeting in August. But we took a step back because now Grains Council and our government could follow up on our meetings because those doors were open. Now Grains Council couldn't get their folks in there. They have an office in Mexico City and they couldn't get the folks into those meetings until we took those meetings. But it took farmers from three countries to get there. Anthony Bush and I couldn't have asked for a meeting and got it. But us with Argentinians and Brazilians, we got the meetings.

 

Brenna Finnegan (31:18):It's amazing the education that how it all comes back to get to that piece of knowledge is power really. And knowing where, what fits where or what fits where, when it needs it and all that kind of stuff. And like you're saying, if they're not going here, then this simple supply and demand, when it comes down to it, when you're not filling it here, it's going over here, well then it's going to the ripple effect down to the local farmer essentially as to where and how they can sell, and it's amazing to me how it all comes full circle when you think about one group trying to put the message out there to keep something going for how many millions of farmers out there.

 

John Linder (32:09):Absolutely.

 

Libby Wixtead (32:10):I would say I think the grassroots effect. I think it comes down to the grassroots of actually farmers going in and having that conversation.

 

Brenna Finnegan (32:18):Educating others about what we're doing.

 

Libby Wixtead (32:21):That’s how you can get, obviously it was the organization, but getting your foot in the door of actually talking with farmers rather than government or a political group. It comes down to grassroots and farmers just being passionate about what they're growing and knowing that what they're doing is safe and you want to be able to help feed the world.

 

John Linder (32:46):Exactly. Those farmers in Mexico realize they have issues that would be really better economically met using the technology that we are using, but they're really very limited in what they can use. So that was the post-meeting. That's why farmers wanted to meet and get a little more background, but we met with government officials. Those were the ones that no one could get into, but three countries together could. And we went to the WTO in the first part of April this year and had a series, I think probably 13 or 16 meetings and they actually set up a meeting room for us at the World Trade Organization headquarters.

 

(33:29):And we met with several countries, the same kind of conversation why the technology is important and why we have to have policies that support that and use the science to make those policy decisions because not everyone wants to. And they've since invited us back, they want us to attend the public forum, but you have to submit your proposal and get accepted and that doesn't happen every time the first time. So we're going to keep trying.

 

Brenna Finnegan (33:56):It's a process, right?

 

John Linder (33:57):It is.

 

Libby Wixtead (34:00):Later this month, join us at Farm Science Review. We'll be at Booth 535 located at the intersection of Land and Tractor Street. Stop by for some giveaways, a water break and a chance to win a Yeti cooler. The show runs September 19th through the 21st at the Molly Carren Ag Center in London, Ohio. Visit fsr.osu.edu for show hours and to buy tickets. We'll see you there.

 

Brenna Finnegan (34:30):So obviously we've talked about how such a group as MAIZALL comes together, how it ends up ultimately affecting us here at home. So what are the issues here at home that farmers should be paying attention to?

 

John Linder (34:50):Economics is a really big thing, and I can tell you from the perspective or share with you from the perspective that Ohio Corn & Wheat, what we look at as a board or what the issues are that farmers are facing, its market access and that brings stability to the farm gate, but also it feels like post-COVID actually during COVID, our supply chain broke, right? We really are still struggling to not have to warehouse a lot of parts ourselves to be able to get through our seasonality of our type of labor. Labor is a big issue, right?

 

Brenna Finnegan (35:26):Yes.

 

John Linder (35:26):But we try to face the things that create stability and like I said, we engage in those fertilizer conversations. We have a bit of a policy mismatch and we're paying for it domestically where we're seeing nuances of supply chain disruptions and movements. So pricing gets absorbent because that's how supply and demand has always meant. Someone always will pay up to get what supply there is and someone else may not.

 

(36:00):But you can have regional differences where folks just don't have access to it because one, they may be dealing more local and not a big supply chain or two, the big supply chain can't meet the needs of all their branches and we don't like that in fertilizer. So we've been really engaged in those conversations and it looks like we're ramping up that way again this fall. So those inputs, the fertilizers are showing up as being a little bit of an issue again, and prices are ramping up. So how we meet the needs for our crops for next year answer if we've got a good crop, how do we replenish? That's one issue. We're facing one with our market access through what I think Ohio does really well is value-add and ethanol is a great story on how we value added and it's co-product of a distiller's grain. That's a wonderful feed protein.

 

(37:02):Face it, we see those comments on the internet where we should probably not grind corn in ethanol because they need it for food. Well, let me set that record a little bit straight from my perspective. I usually don't take that argument on and I chuckle because it might've been a day I wondered that, but I got involved and I understand a little better. Our corn isn't what we need for food because field corn's never going to be on my plate at home, sweet corn will but it shows up in all those wonderful meat products and it also shows up as fuel that we can use to offset the carcinogenic ingredients in the gas tank can be better for the environment and it also reduces the price of our fueling because it's a practical advantage product that delivers at a lower cost than the gasoline that's blended with typically.

 

(38:02):And so that's a market access that if anybody's a real marketer and likes to follow basis. Since the renewable fuel standard 2005, if you track the basis, we pretty much went from occasionally a positive basis, mostly a negative basis to we are typically year-round a positive corn basis. Since the RFS was instated, we started producing ethanol to some really, really handsome positive basis. Now with that comes, someone else wants part of our cost of production. So we have to share in that advantage, but you wouldn't have had that without ethanol and our margins would be thinner.

 

(38:45):And it's not that it's under attack, it's just not being understood that it's the opportunity today to make a difference on everybody's topic at Washington of climate. How do we responsibly be better for the environment? Renewable fuels are here now and it's already working in that regard and it is advantageous to the environment, but it's a big part of our market. We talked about losing or having to figure out what to do with an amount greater than Ohio's corn picture. What we would do if we didn't have ethanol, we would have a totally different dynamic on our economics of raising corn and it would put a lot of pressure on other commodities that we raise. And so the tie to lift all ships would also sink all ships if we didn't have ethanol.

 

Brenna Finnegan (39:36):It's that ripple effect.

 

John Linder (39:37):It is. That's what you were talking about, how this all ties together. It's pretty amazing when you get to thinking about it. So part of the grassroots effort, pay attention to any opportunity to sign up for calls to action. So you can tell the members of Congress what's really important to the farm because ethanol is really... Even if you don't deliver to it's really important to our farm gate. But I really like to share with consumers and legislators on our farm in Ohio, every kernel of corn we raise, every bushel that leaves a farm ends up being livestock feed and they say, “But you sell to an ethanol plant? Exactly, we do, but the DDGs come back.” But we sell to livestock folks too, don't get me wrong, but it's a wonderful co-product that 100% of the protein that goes into the ethanol plant comes back in a distiller's grain. The world is short of protein and we lose none of it producing ethanol. So we have all that feed value retained and enhanced.

 

Brenna Finnegan (40:48):It's not going straight to the mouth of the livestock, but it is getting there eventually.

 

John Linder (40:53):Yes.

 

Brenna Finnegan (40:54):It's taking a different path.

 

John Linder (40:55):That's right. Throughout the month.

 

Brenna Finnegan (40:57):Yeah. So what do you see coming for the future for American agriculture, knowing the roles that you're in with all the different places or different groups that you've been a part of? What do you see coming?

 

John Linder (41:11):Really we focus a lot when we do board work and planning and the National Corn Grower going through a new strategic plan right now. I really wondered when I first got on the board, what was the value of that process? But you get that chance to be visionary and think about what's coming. And there's been some conversation about what does as a farmer of the future look like? And I'd really like to thank the family farmers fights in all this, and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that that happens. And that's one of the wonderful things and the great story we talk about at MAIZALL when we hold meetings with folks, policy decision makers in other countries, it is scale neutral. Our technology is 100% scale neutral. I can get the same technology in one bag of corn that I can get in a pallet of corn, that I can get in a truckload of corn.

 

(42:03):I can put it in a two row planter, I put it on a 48 row planter. It really doesn't matter. I've got the technology to produce sustainably, economically, environmentally, and socially responsible. And that really, really resonates. And so I think that is one of the things you really have to pay attention to. So when we're talking about the high cost of inputs, we can be more efficient with technology and we do that with site specific technology, right? And lucky on our operation, my daughter Katie's here and she likes that stuff, so I don't have to worry about it when I've got a problem…

 

Brenna Finnegan (42:38):She makes it work.

 

John Linder (42:39):... Katie has a problem. I don't have a problem.

 

Brenna Finnegan (42:43):That's good. That's good. So how do you suggest that we keep it sustainable?

 

John Linder (42:51):I think really focusing on how the Ohio Corn and Wheat and National Corn Growers does and the work that the US Grains Council does and MAIZALL, is a great collaborative effort to make sure that size really isn't the only economic advantage. And we see it in our suppliers. The co-ops have got bigger. We've seen farms get bigger. Sometimes there's just no opportunity for a farm to go on and it sells. And so it's really, really important for farmers to have a great relationship with a great lender like AgCredit because that is one of the first things I learned.

 

(43:31):If I was going to be successful, I had to have a great relationship with my lender because I'm going to be faced at ending up against someone that had deeper pockets. And if I can make a pencil, make it work, I'm probably going to need some funds to do it that they may not need them as much of. So that relationship was critical and AgCredit has been a big part of our success here at Linder Farms in Morrow County, but association work is really critical and having that membership is really an important part of what you can do for yourself because you'll be smarter because you did.

 

Brenna Finnegan (44:09):Well, we appreciate that piece of advice for sure. But then obviously, what other pieces of advice do you have for a young beginning, small farmer, one to not be discouraged by anything or whatnot, but what's one piece of advice you'd give them?

 

John Linder (44:25):Don't be afraid to look for that mentor. That's always a really good tool. That's one of the reasons I was successful moving through leadership with corn association work because I had mentors. People that saw something in me and helped me cultivate it, and they're really not making you something you're not. They're helping you cultivate it. So when you think about your farming, having your farming hat on and you meet those needs that you have and you think, I really don't have the expertise, I would give you the piece of advice if you don't hire it until you do, because you can't wait until you get good at it too much time. So don't be afraid to hire a good accountant as a great lender. That agronomy specialist that you need. The people that sell it to you are good agronomists, but they've got a bias.

 

(45:19):And so sometimes independent wouldn't have to be full-time, but independent agronomists are a real asset, and they have an association and they have your best interest. It's things like that that really, really as a beginning farmer, like I said, if you feel like you're short on something, go find it. Don't anticipate that you're going to have to learn it. Take three or four years to learn it to be able to use it, fill that gap with knowledge. And then when you do have that skill, you'll be glad that you didn't wait to be able to implement it.

 

Libby Wixtead (45:56):Time is definitely money on that and finding somebody that is an expert in that and growing with them, that's going to make you so much better. And you're not going to believe the knowledge that you have or that you ever could have had in growing as a person with that knowledge and becoming a better producer and manager. I can't echo that enough. That is great advice.

 

Brenna Finnegan (46:22):That's what I was thinking, like building the team around you.

 

Libby Wixtead (46:24):Yes.

 

John Linder (46:27):Absolutely. I've had folks say, you need your own board. Find those people that you can utilize that way. Well, I never really did that. Just build some friends.

 

Libby Wixtead (46:36):They seem to become friends, right?

 

John Linder (46:38):They do. They do. And sometimes, they have to be far enough away from your operation when a first start is probably 40 miles away. You could be an expert, but really 40 miles away you could find someone that was independent enough from you that they would be candid. Then I soon realized I don't have to be that far away. You just had to build trust and build relationships. If you ever have to have that moment like Cheryl and I have had as husband and wife, when you have to have a tough conversation about something that you didn't want to have a tough conversation, it wouldn't end well if you didn't have a relationship. But nor will anything you do in business. So always work at having relationships all the way through. Because if you ever have to call someone out and say, I think you're wrong, and this really does disparage me, you want them to listen to you. And so you have to have that relationship.

 

(47:30):So I think those are critical. Those are successful moments in building your own leadership style. Yeah, I don't know. Like I said, I still think there's great opportunity in agriculture. I don't think those small farmers are going to have... It's not going to be easy, but I don't think that size and scale is everything but what you want it to be. You'll have to define that, and that might dictate the size that you need to be to have it be produced economically the way you want it to be.

 

Brenna Finnegan (48:07):Great advice. Great, great advice. And actually, it's a perfect way to end the podcast with that piece of advice. So we want to thank you, John, for joining us today and giving us your perspective on the industry, on the international level, local level, personal level, all of that in between too.

 

(48:26):So we want you as listeners to remember to subscribe to AgCredit Said It on all podcast streaming apps. Links to the National Corn Growers Association and MAIZALL will be on our show notes on our website, agcredit.net. Thank you for listening and we'll catch you next time on AgCredit Said It.

 

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