Iowa Soybean Association: Innovation will be key in 2014

Ankeny, Iowa – Innovation will be the name of the game for farmers in 2014, say Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) leaders. As soybean farmers look to the new year, innovation will define progress on the following issues:

Conservation: The ISA helped develop the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and will continue to invest in research and programs focused on improving the adoption and success of conservation measures. Since 2000, the association has invested nearly $3.5 million in soybean checkoff funds for environmental programs and services.

"The goal is widespread adoption of methods outlined in the strategy," explains ISA President Brian Kemp who farms near Sibley. "That means we must demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits to farmers."

Some of these practices are expensive, and the ISA is interested in exploring additional cost-sharing and tax benefits to spur adoption. "We need to be innovative and figure out what it might take for these funding measures to work," Kemp says.

The ISA also continues to monitor water quality, building on more than a decade of acquiring and analyzing data. The ISA's Environmental Programs & Services and On-Farm Network® teams work with industry and academic partners to help farmers use data to implement conservation practices that improve water quality and soil health.

Exports: When it comes to international business, the soybean association hangs its hat on relationships: cultivating new opportunities and carefully maintaining current partners.

"Exports represent the single largest category for soybean sales. When it comes to exports, it's all about those relationships with foreign buyers," says Kemp. "We invest in trade delegations that allow Iowa farmers to meet with buyers, face-to-face, to discuss their farms and learn about buyers' needs. Most important is when they arrive on my farm, allowing me the opportunity to show them the crops I grow and offer them a close look at the product they use."

Several Iowa Soybean Association farmers and leaders serve on national export boards. ISA CEO Kirk Leeds was elected vice chairman of the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) last fall. Laura Foell of Schaller, who is also involved with the United Soybean Board (USB), was elected USSEC secretary while John Heisdorffer of Keota and Past-USB Chairman Jim Stillman of Emmetsburg serve on the USSEC board. Heisdorffer is a current ISA board member, while Foell and Stillman have served on the ISA board of directors and are ex-officio members.

"Iowa is the leading producer of soybeans in the country and, understanding that nearly 60 percent of our crop is exported, anything we can do to help expedite the sale of soybeans for Iowa farmers is important," says Leeds. "The soybean customers around the world recognize the Iowa brand, and this reinforces to customers that our state and nation are quality suppliers."

Value-Added: Iowa leads the nation in the production of biodiesel with 12 biodiesel facilities capable of producing 315 million gallons annually. The ISA was concerned when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offered a proposal to scale back the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) by 16 percent. The agency recommended reducing the amount of biodiesel, ethanol and advanced biofuels that must be blended in the nation's fuel supply next year from 18.5 billion gallons to 15.2 billion gallons.

Iowa Biodiesel Board Executive Director Randy Olson was one of nearly two dozen biodiesel representatives who testified to the EPA last month. Olson told EPA officials to evaluate the biodiesel industry for what it is doing today, and what it can do for the country in the future.

"Don't harm its potential by cutting our production in half next year," he told EPA officials. "I urge you to establish a volume requirement at least consistent with this year's projected production of 1.7 billion gallons."

RFS volume numbers will be finalized later this year. The ISA has encouraged farmers to offer official comment regarding the proposal by visiting www.biodiesel.org and clicking the Fueling Action Letter Writing Campaign link. The comment deadline is Jan. 28.

Outreach: Nearly 40 Iowa farm groups, food retailers and dedicated partners are working together to increase the confidence of food purchasers in today's farms and how food is grown. The Iowa Food & Family Project, launched in 2011 by the ISA, provides unique opportunities for farmers and their urban neighbors to become better acquainted while encouraging continuous dialogue about specific farming practices and food safety.

A new chapter in the "Join My Journey" saga will launch this year featuring "Iowa Girl Eats" blogger Kristin Porter. She'll visit new destinations, bringing farming's story to life for her nearly 55,000 Facebook fans and more than 2 million readers. Stay tuned to iowafoodandfamily.com for opportunities to join Porter on her journey.

"Today's technology enables consumers to seek more information about the sources of the food they are eating and to be more involved in the conversation," says Leeds. "The more we engage and listen to consumers, the better we will be able meet their desires for safe, affordable and nutritious food while building greater trust in today's farms and food systems."

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