Q & A Rob Shaffer

Rob Shaffer is a fourth generation farmer who started his career working with hogs and now grows soybeans, corn and Angus cattle with his brother, Emory, near El Paso, Illinois. He is an advocate for agriculture on the local, state and national level, especially on issues involving biodiesel.

The 1993 Illinois State University agriculture business and animal science grad is second vice chairman of the National Biodiesel Board, has been an American Soybean Association director since 2016 and served a full six-year term on the Illinois Soybean Association’s board of directors starting in 2010.

As per coronavirus protocol today, the gregarious farmer is meeting with his organizations and politicians in Washington, D.C., through virtual communication tools, but is looking forward to more discussions and handshakes in person.

Closer to home, he is a director on the Roanoke Farmers Association elevator board, which is building a new 1.2 million bushel grain bin to be ready for storage in September.

IFT: What led you to your career in farming and to your position on the National Biodiesel Board?

Shaffer: I grew up with pig farming. My first job out of the university was with hogs in North Carolina. In 1998, I got out of the hog business and continued with cattle and corn and soybeans. In 2010, I became a director on the Illinois Soybean Board representing Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties. I got involved in committees but initially didn’t know anything about biodiesel. Two directors encouraged me to get more involved. I was elected to the American Soybean Association in 2016 and became their representative to the Biodiesel Board in 2018.

IFT: What about biodiesel appeals to you?

Shaffer: I learned that the highest rate of return for checkoff dollars is biodiesel. It adds 65 cents per bushel to soybeans for soy oil. Biodiesel interests me because it is made with soybeans and animal fat. Also, it is not feedstock specific. Soybean oil, canola oil and now corn oil from ethanol plants can be used as part of the process. Biodiesel adds value to the bottom line for growers. It doesn’t matter the source (soybeans, corn, canola etc.) as long as it comes from the U.S. Tax incentives to run B11 or higher encourage its use. It’s neat to see what I put in ground and harvest be used to fill the truck or tractor. We run B20 here because my supplier is a fan. As I got to know the industry, I soon learned there is a lot to lobby for in Washington D.C. on behalf of American soybean growers.

IFT: How did biodiesel get flowing here?

Shaffer: There wasn’t much use for soy oil because it wasn’t used for frying here as in China. The hull of the soil beans was used for feed for hogs and cows, and the meal for livestock feed including chickens and for export, but the oil was a drag on price. About 27 years ago, soybean associations started working with biodiesel. Soybean oil was about 7 cents a pounds back then and has gone up to 25 to 30 cents.

IFT: We hear so much about the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the ethanol industry with low prices and closed plants. What has been the impact for biodiesel?

Shaffer: It hasn’t been as bad for us. Because trucking is an essential service, truckers kept going and making their deliveries. Deliveries haven’t gone down much in many areas, except with the slowdown from meatpackers when they couldn’t harvest animals. Diesel prices didn’t go down that much and since soy oil is used in making the biodiesel, it’s been good for us. It helped support the price of soybeans a bit.

IFT: How has the pandemic affected the business of the National Biodiesel Board?

Shaffer: All the in-person meetings and conferences have all been canceled until the end of the year. I would have been in D.C. four this times year and I will not get there at all now. We still have talked with our senators and state reps on our meeting calls. We continue our work with governors and state legislators to keep up the diesel product demand and use as much soy oil as possible to try to get farmers to profitability. We work via phone to keep relationships we have built. We’re still doing our jobs, but we have to do it differently.

IFT: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Shaffer: It comes from my family for four generations. “Leave it better than you found it.” This refers to land, owned or rented, to organizations you are part of and to relationships. Leave it better than you found it.

Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.