Rick Tolman, CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, has been named the 2008 Agribusiness Leader of the Year. This award, which is NAMA’s highest honor, will be presented at the Opening General Session of the 2008 Agri-Marketing Conference, “Leading The Charge,” April 17, 2008 in Kansas City, MO. The award honors outstanding leaders in agribusiness, education, government service or other agribusiness related areas who exemplify excellence in agribusiness by their significant contributions to the industry.
As chief executive officer of the National Corn Growers Association, Tolman has been a driving force in solidifying the demand for corn. The growing ethanol market is a real win for corn farmers and rural America. Today, ethanol has become a symbol of corn grower success. And it is the efforts surrounding the many successes of corn producers in 2007 that distinguish Rick among his peers. Acting Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Conner, had characterized the results of Congress in 2007 as fairly lackluster – except in agriculture. The energy bill, Water Resources Development Act, free trade agreements and developing the farm bill are examples of legislation Congress passed and paid attention to in 2007. And NCGA helped lead the charge for all of them–benefiting corn growers and all of agriculture.
With foresight and planning, Rick led the NCGA Corn Board in its strategic plan in mid-2006 to call for production of 15 billion bushels of corn, of which 5 billion bushels can be used for the production of 15 billion gallons of ethanol by 2015. This blueprint was instrumental in the historic energy legislation signed by President George W. Bush in December 2007. The bill specifically calls for 15 billion gallons of ethanol from corn. Rick’s planning extends to NCGA action teams and committees, which are charged with implementing and executing the priorities of NCGA member states. Each team and committee creates three-year business plans to help chart the course for the current year and two years ahead. These plans have been instrumental in NCGA’s many accomplishments.
In his role as CEO of NCGA, Rick takes seriously his obligation as a leader to educate and inform about the contribution of farmers to U.S. agriculture. Many examples of this leadership exist, such as NCGA’s participation in key initiatives that promote the benefits of ethanol, including spearheading a study on the positive impact of ethanol development to rural communities; leading the charge in dispelling food versus fuel myths to consumers, agriculture and Capitol Hill; participating in multiple speaking engagements both in and out of agriculture to educate audiences on the environmental, economic and energy benefits of ethanol; pushing for continual studies and development of dried distillers grains; and, most importantly, successfully seeking an increase in the production of starch-based ethanol in the renewable fuels standard.
NCGA’s strength comes from its grassroots and state affiliates. In 2007, NCGA welcomed two additions to its federation. New affiliates, the Alabama Wheat and Feed Grains Commission and the Arkansas Corn and Grain Sorghum Board, help NCGA expand its influence. Today 48 state affiliates make up the federation of states that make up the National Corn Growers Association: 25 state grower associations and 23 state checkoff associations.
Commodity Classic, the combined tradeshow and convention of NCGA and the American Soybean Association brought the National Association of Wheat Growers under its tent in 2007, thanks in large part of Rick’s leadership. The addition of wheat growers serves agribusiness, media and growers who attend Classic to reach diverse audiences, gain useful networking and learn the latest developments in growing, harvesting and marketing their crops. Agribusiness had responded favorably to this addition.
Reaching out to agribusiness and industry is a key priority of Rick’s. He participated on NAMA’s Agribusiness Forum panel in November 2006 and has spoken numerous times to the St. Louis Agribusiness Club. And he encourages industry participation by staff members. Several NCGA staff are active members of the St. Louis Agribusiness Club and NAMA, among others, giving presentations at meetings and volunteering to judge NAMA’s annual awards.