ISA CEO Kirk Leeds

(Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: Matter of Trade

October 12, 2020 | Aaron Putze, APR

Aaron Putze, APR, Sr. Director of Information & Education, sat down with Iowa Soybean Association CEO Kirk Leeds to discuss international trade.

As farmers are busy with harvest, what should they know about the status of U.S. soybean trade?

The good news is that we finally have some good news. This comes on the heels of a couple years of difficult markets and disappointing numbers on the international front. We’ve seen an uptick recently in exports led by China. Other markets are generating increased interest, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, which an Iowa Soybean Association-led delegation visited earlier this year. 

What country holds the most promise for increased purchases of U.S. soybeans?

You can never forget China. Even though there are those who believe we’re too dependent on the country, it remains the world’s major driver of soybean sales and exports. Sixty percent of the world’s soybeans are purchased by China. So, you can’t move forward and think about investing resources in trade without thinking about China. 

Tell us more about the opportunities in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Those may seem like strange markets for the Iowa soybean farmer, but there’s a lot of growth opportunities in that part of the world. Egypt is also an incredibly powerful and important story. The aquaculture and chicken industries are growing rapidly in Egypt. We’ll continue to focus on Egypt moving forward. 

What role does the soybean checkoff play in developing markets for U.S. soybeans?

The soybean checkoff is incredibly important for building markets, particularly on the front end. We often talk about China. The reality is that it was soybean farmers and the soybean checkoff that went to China 25-30 years ago, long before we were selling soybeans there. We helped develop the market in China, and the people of China understand the marketplace for soybeans. 

The same holds true for Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt. You are going to see tremendous growth in these countries, which are already home to large populations that are starting to experience economic growth.

What else does the soybean checkoff do beyond developing relationships?

It enables the soybean industry to conduct trade services. This is critical work that rarely makes headlines. For example, if there are issues with the quality of soybeans or how they’re delivered, the U.S. soybean industry is always there immediately with people on the ground asking, ‘What do we need to do to make sure that Iowa and U.S. soybeans are their preferred choice?’ The soybean checkoff program allows America to do what no other country does.

What can Iowa farmers do to help market and sell U.S. soybeans?

First, we must produce a large supply and quality product. We can do all the market demand building we want to do, but if we don’t have a crop to sell, it doesn’t do any good. Farmers must continue doing what they’re doing – select a seed variety that gives us higher protein and oil. Harvest them in an appropriate way. Keep out things in the harvest that shouldn’t be there. Then get the soybeans transported to a co-op or local buyer with the highest quality possible.

Second, farmers have an important job of serving as ambassadors. We have incredible opportunities in Iowa to host trade teams from all over the world. They want to come here and see the crop. It’s important that when we take buyers and guests from other countries onto our farms, that farmers are willing, able and ready to be ambassadors for us and tell the story of high-quality soybeans and how they were grown. No one is better or more qualified to do this than the Iowa farmer. 

This story was originally published in the October 2020 issue of the Iowa Soybean Review.