LINCOLN, NE—Don Hutchens has announced his retirement as executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board effective July 30, 2014, leaving a position that he has held for 27 years. In discussions on Hutchens’ announcement, succession planning and options, the board of directors has interviewed and selected Kelly Brunkhorst to succeed him. Brunkhorst currently serves as director of research for the Nebraska Corn Board.
A native of Geneva, Nebr., Hutchens received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1970. He was engaged in full-time farming and livestock production for 14 years before beginning his career in agricultural leadership. He continues to serve as owner and manager of a crop production operation and feeds cattle. He and his wife Donna have two adult children; Kate Boos, MD, Family Practice physician in Kearney and Jerad, a district sales manager for GSI Group, LLC.
In 1985, Don was named assistant director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, eventually serving as director during 1986. He was selected as executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board in 1987.
Hutchens' involvement and leadership within the corn industry and agriculture has been widespread and varied. He is a graduate of the first LEAD (Leadership, Education, Action and Development) class in Nebraska, which included an ag study mission to Asia. He received the Outstanding Alumni award from LEAD in 1991. He was named to Nebraska Agricultural Hall of Achievement in 1992. In 2012, Don was recognized by US Grains Council for 25 years of service. He also served 6 years on National Corn Growers Association’s Biotech Working Group. He serves as the Corn Board representative on the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN).
"Don has been a selfless and dedicated advocate and spokesman for Nebraska agriculture for nearly three decades and everyone associated with Nebraska agriculture owes him a huge debt of gratitude," said Tim Scheer, chairman of Nebraska Corn Board, from St. Paul, Nebr. "We wish him the best as he transitions to the next phase of his life and career—and we fully expect to continue seeing Don engaged and involved in promoting Nebraska agriculture in the years to come."
His volunteer involvement has included board membership and leadership positions with Lincoln YMCA, Nebraska 4-H Foundation, Nebraska FFA Foundation, Agriculture Builders of Nebraska, Agriculture Committee of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and serving on the Campaign Cabinet for the Nebraska Centennial Mall project. He was also a mentor in the Teammates Mentoring program.
Hutchens accompanied National Corn Growers Association representatives in the final round of GATT talks held in Brussels, Belgium, in December 1990. He has made presentations in Russia, the European Union, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Taiwan and Japan.
During his time as executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board, Hutchens has been a strong voice for not only the corn industry, but the entire agriculture industry. He has promoted a number of collaborative efforts involving crop, livestock and biofuels interests in Nebraska, nationally and internationally.
"There are no better people to work for than Nebraska farmers and ranchers, and I have truly enjoyed my years with the Nebraska Corn Board," Hutchens said. "It has been a privilege to serve the industry I love, and I cherish the friendships that I have forged during my career. I am very supportive of the board’s selection of Kelly Brunkhorst and I truly believe that Nebraska's corn checkoff program is in very good hands. His solid base of economics, research, production and sustainability of our industry, not to mention sound judgment, makes him a natural selection. He not only has the respect of our board and staff, but also that of the other states’ and the national cooperators."
Brunkhorst was raised on a diversified farm and ranch operation south of Wauneta, Nebr. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree in mechanized systems management and business. Upon graduation, he managed a feed mill for a private swine operation in north central Nebraska. He then became a district sales manager for Crow's Hybrid Corn Company before becoming the vice-president of operations and education for the Nebraska Grain & Feed Association.
He joined the staff of the Nebraska Corn Board in 2004 and his responsibilities included research, grant writing, seed industry and first purchaser relations, and leadership on issues related to transportation, industrial uses of corn, domestic and international markets. He has also represented the board on national research, production and stewardship committees, in addition to being chosen to participate in two national strategic planning initiatives.
He, and his wife Carey, have two sons, Seth and Alex.
"Kelly has proven to be a thorough and dedicated advocate for Nebraska corn farmers and he is extremely well qualified to lead Nebraska's corn checkoff program," Scheer said. "Agriculture and the corn industry are in a period of tremendous change and challenge—and our board felt it was critically important to ensure continuity in the leadership of the program and leverage the institutional knowledge that Kelly has gained to the advantage of Nebraska's corn farmers. Kelly also understands the unique structure and environment of Nebraska's corn checkoff. We are exceedingly pleased he has accepted the offer to serve as executive director."
"I am humbled and honored to be selected to serve Nebraska's corn farmers as executive director of their checkoff," Brunkhorst said. "We have a great team on staff and I look forward to working with them, our board, other corn producing states, in-state and national cooperators, and all of Nebraska agriculture to strengthen and build upon the foundation that Don has established.”