Sponsored by the national soy checkoff, the fifth-annual program offered 10 farmer-participants from across the country the chance to tour a number of sites related to the checkoff's objectives to improve the value of U.S. soy meal and oil; ensure the industry and its customers have the freedom and infrastructure to operate; and meet the needs of U.S. soy customers.
"Common sense told me that a board made up of volunteer farmers would be frugal with their own checkoff dollars but it was great to learn more about how they invest the funds to maximize the benefit to soybean farmers," said Jonathan Miller, a soybean farmer from Island, Kentucky. "I had no idea how much research is being funded in part with checkoff funds."
Participants spent the first day of the tour in St. Louis. First, they heard about the work of each checkoff program area at USB's headquarters. Then they toured a barge-loading facility on the Mississippi River, met with a soybean researcher to discuss research advancements in soybeans and visited Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, which uses biodiesel in much of its equipment.
In Mexico, participants got a glimpse of soy use in the U.S. soy industry's second-biggest international market. The group visited a company that imports more than 600,000 tons of U.S. soybeans each year to crush for oil in the frying and baking industry. Participants also toured two food-production companies that fortify their products with soy, a great source of protein. The country is also the largest international market for U.S. soy meal, and the farmer-participants toured two dairy farms that use U.S. soy meal in feed.
"The checkoff started the See for Yourself program to give soybean farmers the opportunity to evaluate specific checkoff-funded research and promotional activities as well as interact with checkoff leadership," said Rick Stern, New Jersey soybean farmer and chair of USB's Audit & Evaluation committee, which sponsors the program.
"It's beneficial to both sides," Stern said. "The participants get an in-depth look into the checkoff, and, as directors, we gain so much from our conversations with the participants and their take on checkoff programs. We had an exceptional group of participants this year and really value their comments and ideas."
The 69 farmer-directors of USB oversee the investments of the soy checkoff to maximize profit opportunities for all U.S. soybean farmers. These volunteers invest and leverage checkoff funds to increase the value of U.S. soy meal and oil, to ensure U.S. soybean farmers and their customers have the freedom and infrastructure to operate, and to meet the needs of U.S. soy's customers. As stipulated in the federal Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff.