Nick Colglazier of Colorado Corn: “Being in charge can be lonely”

Being in charge can be lonely. You are constantly making decisions and sometimes question whether people agree with you because it was a good decision, or simply because you’re the boss. That’s why it is very important to build a culture of trust and openness in the organization, while having a network of peers you […]

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Being in charge can be lonely. You are constantly making decisions and sometimes question whether people agree with you because it was a good decision, or simply because you’re the boss. That’s why it is very important to build a culture of trust and openness in the organization, while having a network of peers you can turn to for guidance if needed.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Colglazier.

Nick Colglazier is executive director at the Colorado Corn, where he leads advocacy efforts for the state’s 3,000+ corn producers, shaping public policy, driving market development and fostering sustainable practices alongside profitability. A lifelong farmer himself, Nick has been involved in agriculture and ag policy his entire life, starting as a youth in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, through his career as a legislative assistant with the Colorado General Assembly, director of public policy, state affairs for the Colorado Farm Bureau, and now at Colorado Corn. Nick and his team recently kicked off their Look for the Blue Hose campaign to promote broader use of E15, a cleaner burning, higher ethanol fuel made from corn that’s proven to lower tailpipe emissions and reduce air pollution.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in the small town of Holyoke, Colorado, on my family’s farm where we raised corn, wheat and pinto beans. Agriculture has been a part of my life since birth and a lot of the values and beliefs I have, along with my passion for my work, comes from growing up in an agriculture community. While this seems like a picturesque bucolic life it might not have been for me. I was actually adopted by my parents as an infant which gave me this wonderful and blessed life. It may just be providence that I ended up here, but who knows where I would have ended up if they didn’t choose to bring me into my loving family.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

The Colorado Corn Administrative Committee is dedicated to enhancing the livelihoods of Colorado corn producers. Through market development, research, outreach and partnerships, we work to expand opportunities for farmers, and to advance the use of innovative technology and sustainable production practices that make corn farming profitable and create thriving rural communities.

Farmers have always been good stewards of the land, and it turns out that sustainable farming practices can actually drive higher crop yields. So, we’re working hard with farmers to implement innovative techniques that benefit the environment and drive profitability to benefit the farming economy. After all, if sustainable farming isn’t also financially sustainable, there will be no farms left.

There’s also a huge opportunity to use corn as a fuel additive in the form of ethanol to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our cars. That’s what our Look for the Blue Hose campaign is all about — encouraging Coloradoans to reach for E15, a higher ethanol fuel, at their next fill-up to help lower emissions, reduce air pollution and improve air quality along the Front Range.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My dad put me to work in a tractor when I was in fourth grade, so my passion for farming began at a very young age. It wasn’t just the hard work and the long hours that inspired me, but also the values of doing something for other people and being there for your family. My dad worked really hard, but he always made time for us kids, our family and his employees.

What I learned from him carried over into my experience with National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America or FFA), where I had a chance to learn more about the vocational and educational side of agriculture. I became a state officer and worked with other young agricultural leaders across the state. When it came time go to college, I decided to study biotech at Colorado State University, but after realizing that all I really wanted to do was farm, I turned to soil and crop science and agribusiness management. After graduation, I went back to farming mode and operated my own 640-acre corn and winter wheat farm in Nebraska for four years.

Today, I’m still involved in the family farm in Holyoke, although it’s been a while since I’ve climbed onto a tractor. I spend most of my time now as an advocate, working on behalf of farmers.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

For our Look for the Blue Hose campaign, there was actually a perfect storm that made now the right time to take action. We’ve been trying to drive demand for corn through ethanol production and consumption for a long time — it’s been about a decadelong venture trying to get more ethanol into the fuel supply. With the renewed awareness around global warming and growing concern about greenhouse gas and carbon emissions, plus the desire to find lower-cost fuels, it just became a perfect opportunity for us to harness these movements to make a really big impact toward cleaning up tailpipe emissions with E15.

For me personally, the Aha moment came when my former boss at the Colorado Farm Bureau recognized something in me that he felt made me a good fit for advocacy. He encouraged me to pursue a position with the Farm Bureau, as well as this opportunity with Colorado Corn. He had the long vision and saw a chance for me to put my skills and advocacy to work to help farmers innovate and grow. I’m incredibly humbled by his confidence in me and his encouragement.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Partnerships have been absolutely critical to our Look for the Blue Hose campaign. We had the idea and the drive, but we didn’t really have the resources within our organization. As it turned out, two other states came to us and said, “We want to partner with you.” So, this gave us an opportunity to engage with other groups working on similar initiatives. This is much bigger than we could have pulled off on our own, so to have people willing to partner with us, to provide resources and expertise that we didn’t have, has been tremendously valuable — and essential to getting everything organized for our roll out.

I think it’s important, whether you’re kicking off a project or launching a new company or organization, to recognize that it’s not always about charging ahead, but instead about taking advantage of partnerships that come your way. Sometimes you can’t just go balls to the wall right away — there’s a lot of back end, behind the scenes work that has to happen to make it successful. Finding the right partners and having a substantial amount of patience can make all the difference.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Without a doubt, the most interesting thing that’s happened to me has been the COVID-19 pandemic. I started this job January 13th, and less than three months later, we were shutting the office down to switch to remote work and had several staff members leave us.

The pandemic affected not only our organization, but also our farmers, to make sure they were aware of changes and new guidelines. We worked hard to make sure agriculture was declared essential, so that they could continue to grow the food, fiber and fuel for the world.

In farming, you can’t adjust your schedule because of supply bottlenecks. You have to plant crops in the spring in order to have production at harvest. You don’t get a do-over on that. We had to work very fast with our industry partners and the Department of Agriculture to make sure farmers could get to the fields and get the supplies/inputs they needed.

There was a lot that got thrown on our plate very quickly, while we were also having to reinvent how we worked as an organization.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

It’s funny now, but at the time I was quite devastated. For one of my first lobbying assignments, my task was to discuss a bill and secure a vote with Sen. Keith King. We already had a position on the bill, but it wasn’t our highest priority, so I admittedly didn’t do all my homework like I should have. After sitting down with the senator and giving my spiel, he started asking questions. I was able to handle the first few with no problem, but before long I was in over my head. My answer for many was, “I don’t know.” I walked out feeling like I had blown it.

Luckily, I had an amazing mentor who helped me right the ship and taught me some valuable lessons: Always do your homework so you know the issue inside and out. Know who supports it, who opposes it, and why. It’s also okay to say, “I don’t know,” but never lie and always get back to them with an answer. And most importantly, never underestimate the importance an issue may hold for someone — it may just be their everything.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I wholeheartedly believe that success is a combination of your own hard work, perseverance, sometimes dumb luck, along with a lot of support from others. My parents were a huge influence in that. They encouraged me to be active in 4-H and public speaking. They never discouraged me from trying something new, even if it might lead to failure. They’ve always been tremendous cheerleaders. And you cannot be successful without support at home. My wife has always pushed me, even when we were dating in college, to be a better version of myself. I would not be where I am at today if she did not provide the level of support she has and push me to go above and beyond.

Having someone who gives you the opportunity to do something you never envisioned is also important. I never pictured myself as a lobbyist or public policy liaison — I wanted to play in the dirt and drive tractors. But, because someone gave me an opportunity to try something new, I’ve been able to make a much bigger impact.

That’s why I also think it’s extremely important that when someone has that kind of impact or influence on your success, it’s imperative for us to pay it forward — to find someone who has talent and push them to do something they perhaps didn’t realize they could do. They’ll still have to put in the time and the hard work but giving them that push can make a huge difference in their success and may even change their entire trajectory.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, we need policy reform. We know that E15 is better for the environment and there’s a growing push among consumers for greater access to it. But fuel retailers can’t just decide to start offering it. There is a litany of regulations and hurdles they have to jump through. It requires all new pumps, fuel blenders are pushing back on increased ethanol blends and there are issues at the EPA enforcing the Renewable Fuel Standards that get in the way. We need a more open and free market, and fewer hurdles so that consumers can access E15 more easily.

We know that it’s cheaper, cleaner and better for our air quality, and we need that now more than ever. In fact, new measurements show that the amount of ozone in the air along the Front Range has increased, and we’re now out of compliance. People move to Colorado for our natural beauty and outdoor recreation but decreasing air quality is becoming a huge problem. E15 provides a solution that we can all use right now.

For the community, I urge you to contact your legislators and tell them that: E15 is the solution we need, and we want you to cut the red tape so we can get greater access to it. It’s not only better for the environment; E15 can also enhance rural lifestyles and economies by increasing demand for our homegrown corn.

Finally, I’ll be the first to admit that our industry has been hesitant to acknowledge climate change. But we do know that corn farmers across the nation have adopted more sustainable practices by reducing water use and pesticides while still increasing production on less land over the years. So, we’re already moving in that direction, and we can continue to impact climate change without heavy-handed policy from Washington. America is a great innovator — in only a few months we already have three promising COVID-19 vaccines in the pipeline! I believe that if you unleash American ingenuity and willpower, you can accomplish a lot.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

You have to look at what’s going on around you and figure out how you fit in. Is there something you can change or is there something already in your business model that’s solving that problem?

Our farmers are a great example. Family farms don’t stay in the family for generations if they’re exploiting the land and natural resources. We recognized years ago that what we now call sustainable practices are the same strategies that increase yields, so we’ve naturally been moving toward efficiency like using less water and fertilizer per bushel and sustainability such as reducing soil erosion for a long time. There are still more things we can do, but we’ve recognized and taken steps toward becoming part of the solution.

You have to figure out your role and what you can do to meet the demands of the consumer, to offer a product that people want. Consumers today want to know who their farmers are and how their food gets to their table — the backstory. It started with the local food and slow food movements, and it’s really just taken off. On my Thanksgiving turkey this year, there was even a QR code I could scan with my phone to meet the farmer who produced it!

We’re just at the tip of the iceberg. We’re helping our farmers increase soil health over the long term, helping them to see value in sustainable practices, how it makes their product more desirable and valuable, and working on programs to help them capture that value. In the end, we’re helping them to become more profitable while protecting the environment. It’s a win-win.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

It would have been nice if someone had tipped me off to the fact that I’d be starting amidst a global pandemic that would upend everything as we know it! But, in all seriousness, it has been a year of organizational shift in both what we do and how we do it. We had to pivot quickly to keep corn producers up to speed on the ever-changing landscape, while learning to work completely remote overnight. I was stuck building relationships on video conferences instead of in-person, and we’ve had to be really creative and flexible to get things done. I have to hand it to my staff and board directors — they have pulled it off and have been successful doing it.

Being in charge can be lonely. You are constantly making decisions and sometimes question whether people agree with you because it was a good decision, or simply because you’re the boss. That’s why it is very important to build a culture of trust and openness in the organization, while having a network of peers you can turn to for guidance if needed.

Change takes time. When I started, there was a long list of items I wanted to tackle and expected to hit the ground at a sprint. But being new to an organization, you quickly find out that, ”you don’t know what you don’t know.” There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and it takes time to figure that out. Eventually, I progressed to at least knowing what I didn’t know. This realization helped me take a step back and see that my visions for the organization didn’t all need to be achieved tomorrow and that by slowing things down, we might get better outcomes.

Rebuilding in a time of flux is extremely challenging. Pandemic aside, transition can be hard. A change in leadership often sends ripples through the organization, which happened with my staff and even board directors. On top of staff and board turn over, we sold our building and have been looking for a new home. While this provided an opportunity build a team and find a new home to meet the organization’s mission, staff shortage places more work on existing staff and not knowing where that new home will be has made building that team harder. It’s been a tough year for everyone, but it’s exciting to know you’re building a foundation for the future.

Sometimes leaders have to ruffle some feathers. A leader must be someone that people look to, someone who can provide guidance, and who is willing to make hard decisions. These things can sometimes rub people the wrong way. Ultimately, the goal is to do what’s right for your employees and the organization — ensuring each can fulfill the organization’s mission. While it would be nice to be liked by everyone and your goal shouldn’t be to rub people wrong, a leader sometimes must stand up for what’s right and stay true to the values, goals and needs of the organization.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Good things don’t just happen. They take a lot of work, passion and sometimes some blood, sweat and tears. If you want something to change, you need to get involved, and you need to put in the work to see that change through.

The civil rights movement didn’t just happen because people thought it was good. It took people marching in the streets, standing up for what they believed in and taking action.

Climate change has been on the radar for decades. Recently, it’s gotten political, which divides us and detracts from the fact that everyone — no matter what you believe or where you stand politically — wants clean air and clean water for ourselves and future generations. While we may not all agree on exactly what change needs to happen, you still need to get involved to share your ideas and roll up your sleeves.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My Grandpa Dale used to say, “You can kick more dents out of a bucket from the inside.”

The lesson being that, if you see something you don’t like, you have to get in there and put in the work. You can’t fire at it from the outside and expect something to change. Even if you don’t change the world, you can still make an impact. I like to think I’ve kicked out a few dents in my time, or at least did my part to keep some dents from being made.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Absent a time machine that could take me back to meet James Madison or Alexander Hamilton to discuss the formation of the Constitution, my contemporary choice would be Senator Mitt Romney.

Throughout his career, he has repeatedly led companies and organizations out of crises. He did this as CEO of Bain & Company, and when he took over the struggling Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics, he turned what’s typically a money-losing endeavor into a success. The Olympics not only ended fiscally in the black, but it also still brings those communities dividends.

In his political career, he has always done what he believes is right and displayed a clear moral compass. He continues to stand up to his party when he disagrees with the party line and that takes guts. We all have times in our lives where we need to stand for what’s right, and to sit with someone who has done this routinely and in a very public way would be an honor. And it would be fascinating to hear how he built the team and made the hard decisions that ultimately turned the Salt Lake Olympics around.

How can our readers follow you online?


Twitter handle: @colodirtfarmer

Instagram: @lookforthebluehose


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