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Whether it is the next international market opportunity or the next generation of agricultural leaders, Kelly Brunkhorst, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, is focused on the future. And after representing his state at the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) for 15 years, his outlook for both is bright.
“When I started as staff, my interaction with the Council was a cooperative partnership and seeing the various programs they undertook,” Brunkhorst said. “And I see that partnership as extending the farmers’ reach from their first purchaser into the world market.”
One of his first travels with the Council took him to Mexico City, where he met with direct customers of Nebraska corn and co-products.
“Representing not only our growers, but also the Council, provided me the opportunity to convey, from a producer’s standpoint, an appreciation for their business if they are already customers and the potential these countries provide in expansion of trade,” he said.
That chance to discuss the value of international trade to Nebraska corn producers has repeated itself over the years, including this summer when the Council, Nebraska Corn and the Nebraska governor together hosted a delegation from Mexico to communicate the state's support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“It was a fantastic opportunity to relay our appreciation of their business,” Brunkhorst said. “As we look at NAFTA, we have and always will be supportive of the trade agreement that was negotiated and ratified 23 years ago.”
Brunkhorst said he values not only these loyal trading partners but also up-and-coming markets. Identifying those areas of growth requires a long-term vision, looking at raw product and also considering how the Council can help work as a conduit to moving those value-added products into the international market.
“What are those key countries that we need to start vetting and what are their opportunities for the future?” Brunkhorst said. “What does their middle class look like? How is that growing? Are their diets changing? Are their incomes changing? How does that all play into the potential for that market to either grow or become a new market for U.S. corn in all forms?”
“We look at the global marketplace and opening doors to new countries and opportunities. We continue to seek out those opportunities, and USGC staff has always been front and center in leading us through those deliberations.”
Nebraska Corn has also invested in the future growth of the U.S. agricultural industry by establishing and expanding an effective internship program that allows Nebraska students to work both in Washington, D.C., and in international marketplaces, including the Council’s global offices.
“We have been very blessed with the caliber of interns we have sent to the USGC offices in Washington, D.C., and globally,” Brunkhorst said. “They have really come back with an appreciation of the work the Council does and an appreciation for what the worldwide market has in regard to opportunity for trade.”
“It is easy sell back because for those who are invested in us, these are their sons and daughters that we are investing back into. They will be the future leaders that are going to be addressing issues long after we retire. And there is no doubt we are in very capable hands with the youth of today.”
That blending of focus on people and resources brings together Brunkhorst’s work over not just the last 15 years, but a lifetime.
“My career has fantastically expanded from a little farm boy to now understanding how the international marketplace works and the role the Council plays in meeting the producers’ investment,” Brunkhorst said. “That connection is fantastic to see.”