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Published June 22 2012

‘Good fit’ for ND farmer

KULM, N.D. – For Bart Schott, the seal of approval came in the form of a friendly jab from longtime Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. Grassley asked Schott – in more colorful terms – how the heck a North Dakotan got to be the head of the National Corn Growers Association.

It wasn’t a role Schott, who grew up on the family farm in this town of a few hundred people about 50 miles south of Jamestown, ever thought he would assume. But after spending the past few years as a full-time evangelist for corn on the national and international stage, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I feel really comfortable talking about corn and farmers and issues,” said Schott, who is now the chairman of the national corn group’s board. “It just seemed to be a really good fit for me.”

Schott, 62, grew up in Kulm on a farm his grandfather started in 1905. It passed to his father, who died in 1974, and then to Schott and his brother. Now, Schott’s sons are preparing to take over.

For years, flax and barley dominated the fields. It wasn’t until the past decade or so that Schott and his family transitioned to corn and soybeans, drawn by the economics of those crops.

“It’s always been my most profitable crop,” he said of corn.

Eight years ago, he was elected to the North Dakota Corn Growers board. From there, he climbed the ranks rapidly to chairman, and was elected to the National Corn Growers Association.

There, he was elected first vice president. Last year, he served as president, rubbing elbows with high-level policymakers and traveling the world to promote corn and corn products. He spent 250 days on the road last year, from lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., to a trade mission to Cuba.

“I was in Cuba when Fidel Castro stepped down,” he said. “So I took a lot of credit for that.”

This year, CropLife, an agriculture magazine, named Schott one of the most influential people in American agriculture. That put him in the company of heavyweights like the president of Monsanto, the chairman of John Deere, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Schott’s term as NCGA chairman is up in October. He plans to stay involved in the organization for a few more years after that, and is the vice chairman of the newly formed U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, an umbrella of agriculture advocacy groups.

His role there, he said, won’t be a stretch.

“It‘s what I believe in and what I talk about all the time,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502