Pork board CEO steps in as NCGA CEO, with focus on partnerships

By Holly Jessen | November 07, 2014

The National Pork Board and the National Corn Growers Association haven’t always seen eye to eye. Now, Chris Novak, a past CEO of the pork board is CEO of the NCGA. “I would say, while there may be a lot of history, I think the focus moving forward has to be on how we work together as partners to grow our industry,” he told Ethanol Producer Magazine, a few weeks after stepping in as leader of NCGA on Oct. 13.

Novak was hired to take over as CEO of NCGA because Rick Tolman stepped down from the position Oct. 17 after 14 years as the organization’s leader. Novak worked within the pork industry for 11 years, he said, six of them as the CEO of the pork board. Before that he was executive director of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance. He also worked for Syngenta and the American Soybean Association. Growing up, he was an Iowa farm kid on a diversified crop and livestock farm. “I’m hopeful that that background and experience allows me to come back into the corn world and work within NCGA with that broad perspective of agriculture working together,” he said.

The first and most important thing is that livestock producers and corn farmers have more in common than they do differences, he said. Secondly, as the nation anticipates a record corn crop, every corn market is needed. “Having come immediately from the livestock industry, recognizing the importance and value of livestock industry as a customer, just as we recognize the investment and work on behalf of the ethanol industry as a customer,” he said, adding that international export customers are also important.

Looking ahead, the record corn crop expected is going to present challenges to corn producers. “We’re already looking in many places around the country, where the price of a bushel of corn has fallen below the cost of production,” he said. “That certainly is going to be a centerpiece of the work that will capture my attention for the year ahead. It’s absolutely crucial that we are working to ensure we have got strong and stable demand.” 

Novak compared the start of his new job at the helm of NCGA to drinking from a fire hose. He took two trips in the first two weeks after his start date of Oct. 13. His first week on the job happened to coincide with one of NCGA’s regular meetings with state affiliate organizations, in this case, the Iowa Corn Gower’s Association. The next week he spent three days in Washington, D.C., with NCGA staff from both the St. Louis and DC offices. While there, he also sat down with both Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, and Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, in order to renew acquaintances with them and, more importantly, talk about how NCGA and its industry partners have worked together.

Overall, Novak sees his job as listening to and learning from all partners, investors, members and stakeholders in NCGA. His goal is to understand the critical issues facing the corn industry and identify both the priorities of NCGA and what his priorities as an incoming CEO should be. “[I’ll be asking myself,] ‘How do I focus my time and attention where it will do the most good for our producers?’” he said.