Innovation will be the name of the game for farmers in 2014. Leaders of the Iowa Soybean Association recently outlined what they see as key issues facing farmers and discussed the programs ISA operates and is involved with which can help. As soybean farmers look to the new year, innovation will define progress on the following issues:
Conservation—promote saving soil and protecting water quality: The ISA helped develop the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a statewide effort to reduce the amount of nitrate and phosphorus moving off of farm fields and into lakes, streams and rivers. ISA leaders say the organization will continue to invest Iowa soybean checkoff dollars in research and programs focused on improving the adoption and success of conservation measures. Since the year 2000, ISA has invested nearly $3.5 million in soybean checkoff funds for environmental programs and services.
"The goal is to achieve widespread adoption of the conservation methods outlined in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy," explains ISA president Brian Kemp who farms near Sibley in Iowa's northwest corner. "That means we must demonstrate the economic and environmental benefits to farmers." Some of these practices are expensive, and ISA is interested in exploring additional cost-sharing and tax benefits to spur adoption, to get more farmers and landowners to use these soil conservation and water quality protection practices. "We need to be innovative and figure out what it might take for these funding measures to work," Kemp says.
ISA also continues to monitor water quality in various streams and rivers in Iowa, building on more than a decade of acquiring and analyzing data. ISA's Environmental Programs & Services and On-Farm Network teams work with industry and academic partners to help farmers use this data, along with other data and information, to implement conservation practices that improve water quality and soil health.
Exports—they are the single largest category for soybean sales: When it comes to international business, the soybean association hangs its hat on relationships: cultivating new opportunities and carefully maintaining current partners.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
"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—Iowa grown soybeans."
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 or USSEC last fall. Laura Foell of Schaller, who is also involved with the United Soybean Board or USB, was elected USSEC secretary. 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 in the past and are ex-officio members.
"Iowa is the leading producer of soybeans in the country and, understanding that nearly 60% of our crop is exported, anything we can do to help expedite the export sale of soybeans for Iowa farmers is important," says Leeds. "Soybean customers around the world recognize the Iowa brand, and this reinforces to customers that our state and nation are quality suppliers."
Value-added opportunity—encourage biodiesel use, protect RFS: 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 announced a proposal in November 2013 to scale back the Renewable Fuel Standard by 16% in 2014. The agency recommended reducing the amount of biodiesel, ethanol and advanced biofuels that must be blended in the nation's fuel supply in 2014 from 18.5 billion gallons to 15.2 billion gallons. The RFS, passed by Congress and signed into law in 2007, requires that a certain amount of ethanol and biodiesel be blended with gasoline and diesel fuel each year.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
Iowa Biodiesel Board executive director Randy Olson was one of nearly two dozen biodiesel representatives who testified to the EPA last month in Washington, D.C. 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."
EPA is currently accepting comments from the public regarding the proposal to reduce the RFS requirement. And ISA is encouraging farmers to offer their comments regarding the EPA proposal by visiting www.biodiesel.org and clicking the Fueling Action Letter Writing Campaign link. The comment deadline is January 28. EPA will evaluate the comments it receives and is expected to make a decision on finalizing the RFS volume numbers sometime this spring.
Outreach—efforts are needed to help inform the non-farming public: 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." More information about ISA is available at the website.