Q&A with Chris Novak, CEO of NCGA

Source: By Jessie Scott, Agiriculture.com • Posted: Thursday, September 3, 2015

Last October, Chris Novak took the helm of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) at a time when the waters were becoming particularly choppy in the corn industry.

Back-to-back record crops were driving a five-year low in corn prices amid growing concern among consumers about the safety and sustainability of modern agriculture.

“The timing wasn’t something I would ordinarily choose,” says Novak. “Yet, at the same time, I wanted to take on the challenge. How can we use the checkoff dollars that farmers entrust us with to develop new markets? How can we take on this challenge of profitability and help bring confidence, optimism, and dollars back to this industry?”

With a slightly smaller corn crop forecasted and a marginal bump in prices, the corn industry has the potential for a small rebound. The challenge still remains to find a home for a continually growing corn supply.

Here’s how Novak plans to tackle the challenge of profitability by creating small wins for the corn industry.

SF: What are the NCGA’s top priorities?
CN: We go through an elaborate process with our state organizations to outline our focus. That includes ethanol and the protection of the current Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). It also includes issues like transportation and access to biotechnology products. Beyond that, we recognize that 14½ billion bushels of corn were produced in 2014, and 2013 was a record crop. How do we grow demand for large crops that we know are going to be part of our future? How we can grow those markets will be a major priority for 2015 and beyond.

SF: Market growth: Where is the biggest opportunity?
CN: There is a lot of focus on ethanol as a major consumer for corn. We have countries that are looking at urban air quality, are cleaning up the environment, and are looking for clean, renewable sources of energy. They are turning to ethanol. Last year, 800 million gallons of ethanol were exported, and we see that continuing to grow.

I’ve had a lot of farmers ask me, “What’s the next home run? What’s the next ethanol?” My response has been that there may not be another home run. We have to think about how the Kansas City Royals got to the World Series in 2014. It was by hitting singles and doubles.
There are lots of small market opportunities. As we put those together, that can bring us the kind of market demand that we need to get back to a point of profitability. We need to look at how we can strengthen the livestock industry, and we need to look at other food and industrial products. That’s what will be important for building demand 1 bushel at a time.

SF: What changes have you made during your first year as CEO?
CN: First, I wanted to listen and learn from people within the industry. Now, I’m trying to evaluate if we have the staff in place who can help us if we are truly committed to growing demand. We will do some reorganizing and attacking some of those challenges a little differently. The first step is putting the right people in place.
Editor’s Note: Since this interview, NCGA announced a reorganization to 

focus on market development and sustainability. This included hiring Amie Gianino as the vice president of market development. Gianino, who has more than two decades of experience in reputation building and market-access preservation, will lead NCGA’s corn demand initiatives.  

SF: Why should farmers join NCGA?
CN: Farmers have seen what ethanol meant to them, to the ag industry, and to rural communities. Farmers recognize that has come about as a result of the NCGA and others who lobbied to create the RFS. There is also a host of regulatory challenges. 
   I think farmers are grate-
ful that somebody is representing them in Washington – fighting for their interests.

SF BIO for Chris Novak

Position: CEO of the National Corn Growers Association
Previous work: Novak joined the NCGA after six years as CEO of the National Pork Board. Before that, he served as an executive director of the Indiana Soybean Alliance, the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, and the Indiana Corn Growers Association.
Family: Novak and his wife, Julie, live in Wildwood, Missouri, with their children, Victoria, Katherine, and Jackson.