CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Executive Insights: Sixty years and counting

February 5, 2024 | Kirk Leeds

Welcome to February and what we hope is the last month of any significant reminders of winter. Yes, we will get some of these reminders in March (and perhaps some in April), but the intensity of the cold and snowy days is usually not as severe, and we know that warmer days are just ahead.

As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, February is also the month when spring training begins, which means another year of baseball is just around the corner. It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 8 years since the Cubs had their magical 2016 season that ended with them winning their first World Series Championship in 108 years!

The arrival of February is also a reminder that spring is coming, and Iowa’s farmers will soon be making final preparations for what they hope is another safe and productive growing season. Getting some much-needed moisture is a priority as we turn the corner into spring.

As I thought about these reminders and promises of the coming spring, I couldn’t help but think about the founders of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) back in 1964. This year marks ISA’s 60th anniversary as an organization serving Iowa’s soybean farmers (and no, I was not working for ISA when it was formed!).

Ten years ago, ISA held a very special event celebrating the organization’s first 50 years. We had several of the farmers who helped start the organization in attendance and they shared stories about “those early days” as they reflected on the changes they had seen and experienced during ISA’s first five decades. We also spent time thinking and talking about what the next 10 years would bring and what we could expect to see by 2024.

Were our predictions correct or even close? At some level, yes. We knew that we would see continued growth in soybean production and demand around the world. We were confident that China and its incredible need for more soybeans to feed its growing livestock and poultry industries would power much of this demand.

Optimism about the growth in biodiesel demand seemed almost a certainty. We also recognized that South America, and particularly Brazil, would be increasingly important competitors. We talked about the emergence of new technologies and the growing resistance in some quarters to some of these new tools.

But, and perhaps not surprisingly, we clearly didn’t forecast how fast many of these predictions would become a reality, nor the disruptions to market demand brought about by a global pandemic and its impact on supply chains, wars and invasions, distrust of China and how its stateowned companies provide unfair advantages to industries in nearly every sector, or the incredible political swings we have seen over the last several election cycles.

Predictions for 2034? I will save that for another column. But given ISA’s 60-year history of delivering results for Iowa’s soybean farmers, I’m confident that the ISA leaders in 2034 will look back in appreciation for the progress we have made.