Bielenberg takes leadership role for life
Passionate Oregon farmer represents Northwest on CHS board of directors
By MITCH LIES
SILVERTON, Ore. -- At Kennedy High School in nearby Mt. Angel, where he was student body president, Dave Bielenberg started his ascent into leadership positions.
Now, at age 60, nearly four decades into full-time farming, Bielenberg still serves as a leader.
Bielenberg is the lone representative for Northwest growers on the board of directors for the agricultural giant CHS, Inc.
"I guess I think I can make a difference," Bielenberg said. "I'm concerned about how the (co-op's) members in this region are treated."
Bielenberg also was class treasurer in high school and served on the student senate while earning an agricultural engineering degree at Oregon State University.
But farming is his passion.
Bielenberg started his own farm in the early 1970s when, just two years out of college, he purchased some land, dug some wells and started a diversified farm operation.
Today, Bielenberg produces grass seed, clover, wheat and grows flower baskets in greenhouses that he sells to Fred Meyer stores. He also cleans seed.
"Dave is not only a good farmer and an innovator and a leader," said his neighbor Mark Dickman. "He's also a good neighbor."
Over the years, Bielenberg has kept his hand in leadership roles. He served a stint on a local school board, serves as head of the East Valley Irrigation District and, beginning in 1990, has served on the board at Wilco Farmers Cooperative. For five years, he was chairman of the Wilco board.
"He's had the vision, and he has been able to articulate it and work on behalf of the area's agriculture," Dickman said.
In 2002 he won election to the CHS Board of Directors. At the time, the Northwest had two seats on the board of the high-profile integrated agricultural company.
The Northwest lost one of its seats on the 17-member board to the High Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado in 2006 as the company expanded its presence there.
Bielenberg, then the junior representative from the Northwest, lost in a runoff election for the lone Northwest seat.
This past fall, he reclaimed his position on the board in a hotly contested three-way race.
"It's very political," Bielenberg said of the elections.
"It's like any politics, you don't know which buttons to push at what time," he said. "You don't know what is going to get somebody to decide to support you. But the best you can do is just do your thing, and it usually works in the end."
Today, Bielenberg is considered a valuable member of the board.
"Dave Bielenberg's deep knowledge of the diverse agriculture of the Pacific Northwest adds an important perspective to the CHS Board," said Mike Toelle, a Browns Valley, Minn., farmer who is chairman of the CHS Board of Directors.
Serving on the board of the Fortune 500 company is time-consuming -- Bielenberg estimates he spends upwards of 80 days a year on board business -- but it is interesting and rewarding, Bielenberg said.
"You learn a lot," he said.
"The company makes an effort to make sure the board is well informed about the issues. I find that personally interesting, and it also helps make good decisions for the company," he said.
Serving on the board also helps Bielenberg manage his own farm, he said.
"You just get a broader picture of how things work and it helps you on your farm," he said. "It has given me a better understanding of how markets work."
Bielenberg said he also finds he runs his farm more efficiently when serving on the board.
"There are certain times of the year where it's a real challenge," he said.
"For instance, I quit growing strawberries, because June was just a disaster.
"Overall, it has forced us to do a better job of planning what gets done and how it gets done, because I know I'm not going to be there, and I know things have to be done," he said.
Once a year, in March, board members travel to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on behalf of CHS.
Board members this year spoke in opposition to cap and trade legislation.
"We think the bill puts an unfair (tax) burden on the refiners," he said.
"We understand that we have to be responsible for the emissions we make in the processing (of fuel), but we don't think the refiners should be paying the tax for everybody.
"Our position is we think the people using the fuel -- the people creating the greenhouse gases -- ought to be transparently responsible for paying that tax."
Also, he said, CHS believes the extra costs for fertilizer, fuel and pesticides will undercut any benefits farmers could gain for carbon sequestration.
"In the end, it's going to cost agriculture more than they're going to gain," he said.
Other topics on this year's agenda were the expiration of biodiesel tax credits as of Jan. 1 of this year and of ethanol tax credits Jan. 1 of next year.
"They (politicians) think mandates will drive production," Bielenberg said. "But all these refineries refining biodiesel have pretty much shut down because of the expiration of these tax credits."
CHS also is concerned over federally prompted reviews of the Capper-Volstead Act, and the outside chance the Department of Justice could seek a repeal of the act.
"We're concerned," he said. "That could have a negative effect on our ability to stay competitive."
Home town: Silverton, Ore.
Family: Wife, Pegi Bielenberg; three grown kids; two girls, one boy
Education: Bachelor of Science from Oregon State University in agricultural engineering