Kirk Leeds at desk in 1999

Kirk Leeds at the Iowa Soybean Association in 1999

Executive Insights: What excites you?

November 29, 2022 | Kirk Leeds

This month marks 30 years as the chief executive officer of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). It’s been an amazing run that’s provided a front-row seat to incredible growth in global soybean demand and production.


  • Soybeans were planted on 59 million acres in the U.S. in 1992. In 2022, nearly 90 million acres were planted.
  • Thirty years ago, the national soybean yield was 37.6 bushels per acre; today, it’s more than 50 bushels per acre.
  • U.S. soybean production has more than doubled over the past 30 years, from 2.2 billion bushels to almost 4.5 billion bushels.
  • Domestic soybean crush capacity has surged from 1.2 billion to 2.2 billion bushels.
  • U.S. soybean exports in 1992 were less than 700 million bushels; today, more than 2.5 billion bushels are exported.

Iowa Soybean Association CEO

China has been key to this growth. On my first day at ISA, soybean exports to the country of 1.18 billion people were nonexistent. We soon rallied around the mantra of getting “one chicken in every pot,” knowing a boost in protein consumption by the country’s booming population would necessitate greater soybean meal demand. Our efforts, backed by the soybean checkoff, succeeded. China is now home to 1.43 billion people who eat a whole lot of chicken, pork and fish fed with U.S. soy.

Over the past 30 years, we’ve developed a host of new uses for soybeans – from ink and biodiesel to renewable diesel and products extending the life of asphalt and shingles. We introduced the world to soy-based aquaculture feed and demonstrated to fish and shrimp farmers in countless countries how to incorporate new technologies to sustainably produce more fish.

Since 1992, we’ve vastly improved soybean genetics, including the introduction of biotech crops. We’ve used science to boost yields and reduce our environmental footprint with better management driven by checkoff-funded research conducted by ISA.

And that’s not the only example of how ISA has flourished these past 30 years. The association has played a lead role in launching a multitude of initiatives and programs, including the North Central Soybean Research Program, Soy Transportation Coalition, U.S. Soybean Research Collaborative, Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Biodiesel Board, AgOutcomes, the Soil Water Outcomes Fund, Iowa Food & Family Project and The Soyfoods Council.

Iowa Soybean Association CEO

A colleague recently asked what continues to excite me after 30 years at ISA? That’s easy: We have more work to do!

Demand for soybean oil and meal will grow, perhaps at an even faster pace. New products on both the production and demand side are being developed. Consumers are increasingly inquisitive about how and where food is produced. Governments around the world seem bent on limiting access to emerging technologies and erecting obstacles for farmers who remain focused on producing a safe and abundant crop to feed a hungry world. U.S. soy must be poised to meet consumers’ growing protein needs.

To the great farmer leaders and dedicated staff I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside these many years – a heartfelt thank you for all you have done and will continue to do in the exciting times ahead.

Merry Christmas and God Bless.