Meet the new MCGA directors

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Elections brought four new members to join Minnesota Corn Growers Association board of directors, and these farmers represent a range of interests and types of corn operations found among Minnesota farmers. The directors, all set to serve three-year terms, are John Luepke, Curt Watson, Charles DeGrote and Noah Hultgren. Another new director, Jean Knakmuhs of Lucan, joined the board in December to fill an empty seat.

John Luepke, 55, farms near Courtland. A retired employee of 35 years with the 3M plant in New Ulm, Luepke has shifted his attention to the farm where he plants 103 acres of continuous corn, while he manages CRP easements and pasture. He also rents about 300 acres of his land out to a neighboring farmer.

Like many small, independent farmers, Luepke works cooperatively with neighbors to get the farming job done. He hires a neighbor to custom plant and harvest his corn and he hauls corn for himself and others. Luepke is also a member of two ethanol co-ops, as well as Minnesota Soybean Processors in Brewster.

“I have always had an interest both in promotion and in new products–the two fit together well,” said Luepke. Among the uses he supports is corn stove heating. He has heated his home with corn for the past 20 years and calculates that it reduces his dependence on fuel oil by 75 percent.

He has also served on the Nicollet-Sibley Corn and Soybeans Growers board of directors.

Curt Watson of Renville, served as president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association from October 2006 through September 2007. He raises corn, soybeans and sugar beets, and is a member of Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Coop. Its farmer-members own 100 percent of the sugar production for the coop, which took its cue from the “Minnesota Model” of farmer ownership that has proved enduring and successful in the ethanol industry.

Watson predicts that his energies will be direct toward the next farm bill and responding to the anticipated major changes in national crop insurance. He notes that building more value-added processing industries will be a key element to continued farmer prosperity in the region.

“We (Minnesota growers) still export half our corn–that’s a lot of opportunity that is leaving the state,” said Watson.

Charles DeGrote, 54, of Clara City, has been farming since 1978. In addition to corn, soybeans and sugar beets, he and his wife Cindy also raise cattle. There operation has decreased hog production and emphasized cattle more in the last few years, he said.

DeGrote is a member of Southern Minnesota Sugar Beet Coop and has served Chippewa Valley Ethanol Cooperative (CVEC) as a board member for more than a decade.

Through CVEC, DeGrote became active in an ad hoc group to promote the use of distillers grains. MCGA also had representation on that ad hoc group. Eventually, the group made its case to US Grains Council and won that body’s ongoing support for overseas market development for distillers grains.

“The number one issue for me is continued enhancement of corn as fuel, food or fiber,” said DeGrote. “This will ensure the fullest utilization. We need to continue the great research Minnesota’s corn organizations underwrite that boost efficiencies of raising the crop, with better management practices, research into genetics, fertilization, and better understanding of the nitrogen process–it’s all about enhancing the productivity of corn.

“I plan on being involved with local activities,” said DeGrote. “I’m looking forward to participating in what MCGA does because the organization has been instrumental in doing good things for so many of us corn producers, and it’s very proactive. That’s how we have to be.”

Noah Hultgren, 31, farms about seven miles west of Willmar in Raymond, Minnesota. He and his brother Nate are the fourth generation, and they farm with mom Nancy and dad Duane–all partners in the operation that raises sugar beets and edible beans along with corn and soybeans. They also produce vegetables under contract with Lakeside foods for sweet corn and peas.

“We believe in being diverse, most of the time it helps quite a bit,” said Hultgren

The partners are also members of Bushmills Ethanol in Atwater.

Hultgren has served on the Kandiyohi County board for the last two years and received encouragement to join the state level leadership from local organization president Larry Konsterle and Chad Willis, a district representative to Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

Hultgren has an interest in government relations and wants to get involved in working with elected officials to keep the farmers’ message in their awareness as they make decisions that will impact farming.

“The public image of farming needs a change,” Hultgren noted. “There are so many people who have no real contact with farming and yet they feel that they are experts. With the explosion of social media, misinformation is rampant. We need to stand up and say this is what we do, this is what we believe in. We are an important group of people, because we feed the people of the earth. So people should get the right information about us.”

Jean Knakmuhs of Walnut Grove has stepped up to finish the unexpired term for a departing director. Her term lasts one year, and at this point Knakmuhs plans to run for the post when it comes up for election.

She currently serves as treasurer on the Redwood County Corn & Soybean Growers board of directors, and her leadership experience also includes past service for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

Though she and her husband retired from active farming about five years ago, she remains very passionate about agriculture.

“Even though I am working full time, my job is involved with agriculture,” said Knakmuhs, who is a vice president at State Bank of Lucan. She said, “After I left the Soybean Growers board, I found that I missed that, so when this opening came up at MCGA I said yes.”

Knakmuhs notes that her primary function at the bank is agricultural lending.

“I try to always remember what it was like when I was sitting on the other side of the desk,” she said.

Asked about what issues she will put her energies into, Knakmuhs said, “I am so new to the MCGA board and I am learning a lot about the specifics of our positions. It’s giving me a great education about the whole range of issues that impact corn production.”

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