Buis supports other farmers by serving ICMC, ICGA - Indiana Corn and Soy

Buis supports other farmers by serving ICMC, ICGA

BY EMMA HOPKINS-O’BRIEN

Like many Indiana grain farmers, Mike Buis grew up farming cropland side-by-side with his immediate family — his siblings, father and grandfather — beginning in the 1950s. Like most farming families in Indiana, his also raised livestock, including hogs in the 60s and 70s and cattle until just six years ago.

However, unlike most teenagers, Buis rented his first farm in 1964 — three whole years before he graduated high school.

“I started in 1964, so this will be my 59th or so crop this year, and I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs in farming over the years,” Buis said. “But you just have to be patient and stick with it — that’s just how it goes with farming.”

Having farmed his whole life, Buis would go on to be an important player in overseeing the birth of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council (ICMC), and today he farms 3,000 acres of corn and soybeans in Putnam and Morgan counties. But that’s skipping ahead.

He also attended Purdue University, graduating with a degree in education in 1971, and was even a walk-on basketball player for the university his freshman year, which happened to be the opening year of Purdue’s Mackey Arena. He got his master’s degree in education from DePaw University in 1974. Buis taught high school and middle school for six years at Cascade High School before deciding to “take a short break” and go back to farming.

“I was a basketball coach and enjoyed teaching high school,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what, I did six years and it got to me. So, I thought ‘well I’ll just take a little break.’ Then my brother and I rented some more ground, and bought some more acres, and the next thing you know it’s full-time farming.”

Despite the unintended side-step of his would-be teaching career, Buis has enjoyed every day of his farming life. As it turns out, he has good sense in helping the industry move forward. This became evident when he was an early proponent of establishing the corn checkoff in Indiana. There was wide skepticism, at the time, of its necessity.

“There was some bad publicity around other checkoff programs,” he said. “Some checkoffs had problems back in the 1970s, so when ICMC was being organized (in the early have come out of there.”

Buis recalls that a few years into his term on the Council, to demonstrate the versatility of corn, the ICMC office had carpet installed that was made of corn, and the members were brought shirts made from corn, as well. Similarly, in the heyday of ethanol being introduced on the corn scene, it became ICMC’s duty to educate Indiana on the benefits of biofuel.

“Through the checkoff dollars, they’ve done a lot of promotion and education, especially about ethanol because a lot of people had a lot of different opinions about ethanol — especially big city people and corporations,” Buis said. “They said ‘well they’re going to take our food away — food to feed people and turn it into fuel.’ People didn’t realize that about 80 percent of corn is turned into livestock feed, and we were not wasting that corn.”

Buis said many press conferences occupied the ICMC’s time then, and there were a lot of testimonials from the likes of large grocery store chains against ethanol. However, with checkoff dollars, the Council actively worked to educate the public. “We educated kids at school with pamphlets, we had a rodeo where we promoted corn, we just did a lot of different things to get through to people the importance of corn and what it was used for,” he said. “One year we sponsored the Amazing Maize exhibit at the Indiana State Museum, and a lot of people went through that to learn the history and importance of corn when the ethanol thing took over and was a whole new concept for many people.”

All kinds of businesses pushed back on any promotion of ethanol with the thought that using corn for fuel would be a waste. Buis credits the corn checkoff in Indiana and other states with playing a big role in the success of the ethanol industry in Indiana today and in the country at large.

“All the controversy and publicity around ethanol with the food versus fuel controversy have made producers aware” Buis said. “That’s one of the biggest things I think checkoff dollars have helped with: To educate people about the importance of corn globally.”

A loud voice to legislators

In addition to the huge help that checkoff money provides to the corn industry, Buis said the Indiana Corn Growers Association (ICGA), which he joined more than 15 years ago, has been just as important in shaping the industry through policy work.

“I feel the ICGA is a loud voice to the legislators, and we have a tremendous staff that keeps up on the different issues and keeps track of the bills coming through the Indiana Statehouse,” he said. “Things that affect Indiana farmers, whether it’s about grains or livestock or any federal issues—they do a good job of getting publicity and information to our farmers.”

Buis commented that ICGA puts on “shop talk meetings” for farmers to come and meet with representatives from their district to talk and get their opinions across, emphasizing to legislators the importance of the producers’ end of it and voicing their concerns.

“I think with the legislators, ICGA has built up a good reputation,” Buis said. “I know some legislators come to our organization to ask ‘what do farmers think about this?’ So, we get together, and we form an opinion on it, whether we support it or disapprove of it, and that’s what I like about the organization.”

A strong proponent of ICGA, Buis will at times take it upon himself to recruit new ICGA members and has recruited somewhere around 28 members in the past seven years. He recognizes how difficult it normally can be to have people take the time to join an organization, but says he has no secret recipe for success in recruiting other than approaching potential members one-on-one.

“When I talk to people about joining the ICGA, I say ‘listen, if you have a problem with anything you do as a corn farmer, if you have problems about any aspects of growing corn, sit down with us, call the Indiana Corn Growers office. We can get with some representatives and see if we can get something solved through the proper channels.”

“The organization needs you just as much as you need the organization,” Buis said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

There’s no time commitment to being a member of ICGA, and farmers can put as much or as little effort into it as they want. For those farmers who do put time into it, Buis feels it will never be time wasted.

“I think it’s a huge advantage as a farmer, because growers can learn from each other,” he said. “I mean, here I’m in my 70s, and even I’m still learning things.”

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