Kirk Leeds

(Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: Creating a Legacy

March 15, 2021 | Kirk Leeds

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) recently recognized eight leaders for their contributions to the soybean industry. I encourage you to read about them and their accomplishments in this edition of Iowa Soybean Review. Also, please join me in thanking those who make our recognition of their efforts possible: West Bank, Agri-Drain, Bayer, Cargill, Champion Seed, Corteva, Farm Credit Services of America, John Deere and Stine Seed. 

As we celebrate these dedicated leaders, I’m mindful of how their efforts will contribute to the future success of our industry. After all, who doesn’t want to look forward? We’ve been hunkered down for several years dealing with a myriad of challenges. Trade disputes, pandemics, derechos, low soybean prices and profitability have taken their toll.

But as a new growing season approaches, we look forward with resolve and renewed optimism. Several issues deserving attention:


Momentum is underway in Iowa for renewables as the governor and legislature press for a biofuels minimum blend standard. We support the legislation. Increased biofuels usage creates demand for Iowa-grown soybeans, good-paying jobs in rural communities, cleaner air and less reliance on petroleum imports. 

There’s also a lot of conversation about electric vehicles in the context of climate change and future limitations on oil exploration and fracking. What impact could the accelerated rise of electric vehicles have on biofuels (including renewable diesel) and thus, agriculture and the profitability of farmers? How might the need for more renewable diesel increase demand for vegetable oil (primarily soy), but negatively impact biodiesel production? Rest assured, ISA will be fully engaged on these issues.


The new administration is incorporating climate-related initiatives throughout every department and agency. ISA has signature research and demonstration programs related to carbon sequestration. We’ve been working on the carbon issues for more than a decade, thanks to the foresight of soybean farmer leaders. Therefore, ISA and soybean growers are in a unique position to drive this issue in a way that’s beneficial for agriculture.


Effective organizations reach out and involve others. No one person or association has all the good ideas. A priority for ISA is networking with other soybean states and our national organizations. We have more in common than differences. As we think about strategic initiatives involving supply, demand, information and policy, we have refocused our efforts to ensure we’re doing things that complement and support similar efforts in other states. You maximize farmer involvement and the soybean checkoff when you take advantage of the power of partnerships. 


The number of disruptions in soybean exports over the past 3-4 years is unprecedented in my nearly 30 years with ISA. It took decades to build a highly successful export market with China. Then, nearly all sales were lost almost overnight when a trade war between China and the U.S. began in spring 2018. Sluggish sales continued for a couple of years, rebounding in 2020 with China purchasing record amounts of ag products, including soy. 

While China will likely continue purchasing large volumes of soy and other proteins, we can’t be overly dependent on one country for sales. The good news is that there are other export destinations that hold tremendous promise. They include Pakistan, Bangladesh, Europe, Mexico, Egypt, Canada and Southeast Asia. U.S. soy representatives are present and active in these locations, building relationships and a preference for the soybeans you grow. 

Best wishes as you embark on a new season of soybean production. May it be a safe and successful one for you and your family.

This story was originally published in the March 2021 issue of the Iowa Soybean Review.