New NAWG chief considers wheat a top commodity
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The new CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers considers wheat to be the top commodity -- so much so that he told a little joke during his interview for the job.
"It's much more important than corn and soybeans -- it's God's chosen commodity," said Jim Palmer, who joins NAWG as CEO on June 1. "It sure wasn't cornbread that Jesus broke, it wasn't soy-fortified bread. It was good, honest, unleavened, whole-wheat bread."
The youngest member of a fourth-generation farming family, Palmer said wheat was the favorite crop for both of his grandfathers when he was growing up.
"I know being the wheat CEO is not a mission from God, but I'll treat it like one," he said. "I really consider wheat as the premiere commodity of the big three because it's a food commodity moreso than a feed commodity."
Palmer, 59, sees many similarities between wheat and soybeans, the crop he worked with for most of his career, including executive director of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.
Palmer's priorities for the wheat industry include working on a new farm bill, crop insurance, transportation and more funding for wheat market promotion and production research. He called for improving yields and investments to improve protein levels in some parts of the country.
Palmer stressed that he was impressed with how well NAWG's executive committee works.
"It was impressive how they intercommunicated and constructively argued," he said. "You could tell they liked each other, respected each other and appreciated each other's difference in production."
There are major differences in how wheat is grown, where it fits in the production cycle and rotation and its importance as an income stream, Palmer said.
"It's different but always important all over the country," he said.
Palmer said he sat down with the producer-leaders to ask questions.
"I don't want to know just what our policies are, I want to know how we got to them," he said.
Palmer brings broad experience managing various facets of the soybean industry, including financial management and staff coordination, said NAWG second vice president Brett Blankenship, a farmer in Washtucna, Wash.
"Great days are ahead for the National Wheat Growers," Blankenship said. "With Palmer's management, we look for growth in membership and to elevate the wheat industry to be the flagship of the commodity groups."
There were more than 20 applicants for the position, Blankenship said.
Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers executive director David Torgerson worked closely with Palmer, since many farmers in the state grow both wheat and soybeans and share similar concerns.
"Jim's a down-to-earth type of guy, he's easy to approach, he knows how to work with people and help people work together," Torgerson said. "He's always going to be listening."
Palmer said he has committed to at least five years with NAWG.
He expects to add to NAWG's outreach and said he will depend on state executives and national farmer leaders. He also hopes to fill some vacant positions at NAWG.
"Farmers are their own best lobbyist, and we need to be there to help," he said. "That's my strategy."