Leader of the Pack
Wilcox farmer has been trailblazer in adding value to farmers’ crops, natural resources
Reprinted with permission from the Kearney HUB | Kearney, NE
By LORI POTTER Hub Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, October 21, 2013 12:45 pm

WILCOX — Every Nebraska harvest season is different.

Most of the 2012 corn was in the bin by late October, while the 2013 harvest is just now peaking.

“I hope we’re done by Nov. 1, but it might be more like Nov. 11,” farmer Gale Lush said last week as he waited for his rain-dampened fields south of Wilcox to dry. 

There has been one constant since Lush came home to farm full time in 1977. He has been a leader in organizations that support opportunities for farmers to add value to their crops and natural resources, including the development of the ethanol and wind energy industries.

“I just thought somebody needed to do it,” Lush said about serving as chairman of the American Corn Growers Association Foundation and as a Nebraska Farmers Union board member. “I started by talking to like-minded people.”

Whether he’s defending the renewable fuel standard (RFS) for the ethanol or promoting wind projects that, through lease payments, could provide added income for landowners, his key question is: How would it be good for rural America?

A 1970 graduate of Wilcox High School, Lush earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and then enrolled in UNL’s law school. He took the bar exam after his first summer back on the farm.

“It was so I’d have something to fall back on if the farming thing didn’t work out,” he said. “It’s nice to have that background for estate planning.”

He has focused on the business end of the family farm partnership that includes his two brothers and son, even though his favorite part of farming is agronomy and the challenge of enhancing yields every year.

When asked about his free time, Lush said, “I’m still trying to figure out the commodity markets. Some people go to Florida, and I go to commodity seminars.”

He also goes to Nebraska and National Farmers Union and American Corn Growers Association and Foundation events.

Name: Gale Lush
Home: Farm south of Wilcox
Education: Wilcox High School graduate, 1970; University of Nebraska-Lincoln, bachelor’s degree in agriculture, 1974; and three years at UNL law school
Profession: Full-time farmer since 1977 and now farms with his two brothers and son
Crops: Corn, soybeans and wheat
Family: Wife, Laurie; son and daughter-in-law, Alexander and Elise, and their boys, Luke, Rylan and Henry; and daughter Sarah of Omaha
Ag organizations: American Corn Growers Association Foundation chairman and ACGA board ex officio member; Nebraska Farmers Union Board director; National Farmers Union and KAAPA member; Nebraska Corn Board past director; and Class 2 Nebraska LEAD Program alum
Community activities: Trinity Lutheran Church in Hildreth member and Wilcox School Board past member
Renewable Fuel Standard

Original goal: 7.5 billions of renewable fuels blended into gasoline by 2012

Increased: From 9 billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022

For 2013: Expected that nearly 10 percent of all fuel used will be from renewable sources
For 2014: 16.55 billion gallons

Nebraska plants: 24 active

Annual production capacity: More than 2 billion gallons

Corn used: About 700 million bushels

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency and Nebraska Ethanol Board websites

As a nonprofit, the foundation can do outreach and education work, but not lobbying. “We’re trying to reach out to the public in general and decision makers, not support any particular legislation,” Lush said.

The outreach has included supporting regional and Nebraska wind energy workshops for more than a decade. That includes helping sponsor the 2013 Nebraska Wind Energy Conference Nov. 13-15 at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln.

“Everyone thought it was impossible to get wind started in Nebraska, as a public power state,” Lush said, until “seedbed” legislation was passed to aid rural community-based wind projects.

Federal production tax credits are critical incentives for private industries to invest in wind energy. Lush said that because those credits must be renewed annually by Congress, proponents must keep making a case for them.

American Corn Growers Foundation leaders also focus on ethanol and preserving the RFS.
Lush described ethanol as the most important thing to happen to rural Nebraska, an opinion reflected by his membership in the Kearney-based cooperative that built the KAAPA Ethanol plant west of Minden.

As chairman, Lush is quoted in the American Corn Growers Foundation’s press releases that defend the RFS and respond to constant efforts by oil interests, including the American Petroleum Institute, to eliminate it.

The foundation’s RFS defense tools include Iowa State University research that says ethanol blends save consumers more than $1 per gallon at the pump. Lush said even the conservative Hoover Institute lists the possible savings at 50 cents to $1.

He also promotes the value of a renewable, home-grown fuel that isn’t affected by violence or politics in the Middle East or other areas of foreign oil production.

In a July press release issued by the foundation, Lush says the American Petroleum Institute’s latest call to end the RFS “shows a selfish disregard for the best interests of the U.S. economy, U.S. consumers and U.S. energy security.”

He told the Hub the RFS may be more important to the overall ag economy than the farm bill.

With spot market corn prices at around $4.25 per bushel and projections for a 2013 U.S. crop of 14 billion bushels, Lush said anything negatively affecting ethanol production and demand for corn would devastate farm income.

Loran Schmit, a former state senator and now executive director of the Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers, made that point in a recent speech to the Beatrice Kiwanis Club.

“I need not describe for you what would happen to the corn market if the corn for ethanol market should disappear,” he said. “The average cost of planting an acre of corn today is approximately $500. That will not work with corn in the $2 per bushel range.”
Lush said Nebraska agriculture depends on a “golden triangle” of corn, ethanol-distillers grains and livestock. The relationship has created a market for 40 percent of the state’s corn and soon will lift Nebraska to the No. 1 cattle-producing state.

“If everybody sticks together, everything will work out. The golden triangle does work,” he said.

The next boost for ethanol needs to be getting more gas stations to install blenders pumps that dispense the recently approved E15, Lush said. The standard blend is E10, or 10 percent ethanol.

He said defending ethanol is a constant fight and challenge because big oil interests that oppose the RFS have unlimited funds.

Every time ethanol supporters think they’ve quieted opponents’ food-versus-fuel argument, it comes up again. “Yeah, that’s a big one,” Lush said.

Countering that is difficult because so many Americans have no ties to agriculture. “When you don’t know anything, you can believe almost anything if it’s said in a believable way,” Lush said.

The American Corn Growers Foundation sent Project Director-Outreach Coordinator Dan McGuire of Lincoln to the Chicago Food Show. “He took one of my field corn ears and a sweet corn ear to the show the difference,” Lush said, and to explain that the corn in grocery stores is not the same corn used for ethanol and livestock feed.

Lush said ethanol proponents might be fighting the same battles 10 years from now, but it’s worth the effort to ensure the industry’s long-term viability.

“Once it’s destroyed, gas prices will go up,” he said. “Then it will be impossible to get it back.”

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