Iowa Soybean Association CEO

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)

Executive Insights: Up to the task

January 10, 2024 | Kirk Leeds

Welcome to 2024. The start of a new year always makes me introspective. That’s increasingly so as the candles start to add up on the birthday cake. Time’s passage, after all, has a way of making us increasingly appreciative of it. Perhaps you can relate.

I like to consider myself “a fixer.” When I see or hear a problem, I immediately seek to resolve it without (as my wife, Kim, sometimes reminds me) listening as much as I should.

I’m also a studier. My parents were in the grocery business. Habits learned from working beside them during my formative years have stuck with me. To this day (and to Kim’s chagrin), I’ll walk the aisles of Fareway and Hy-Vee scanning the shelves, calculating linear feet of space occupied by a certain product and questioning why one is at eye level while another is relegated to the bottom shelf.

With the arrival of a new year and Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) 60th anniversary, I’m also scanning the horizon of the soybean industry. My mind is occupied with the many issues impacting the lives of soybean farmers. Each issue I see (and want to fix) is accompanied by even more questions:

  • As geopolitical tensions continue to rise, how will the wars, unrest and growing anti-trade sentiment impact a soybean industry so dependent on exports?
  • How do we stay relevant to farmers as the evolution and speed of farming quicken? How do we remain ahead of the learning curve as tools, products and practices become increasingly sophisticated and available?

  • How do we increase soybean farmer awareness of the programs and services made available by their investment in the soybean checkoff? How do we deliver those programs more effectively?

  • How do we motivate more farmers to engage deeper in policy given the profound (and costly) impact it has on every farm and everything they do?

  • How do we balance the production of soybean meal and oil to meet the needs of customers while bringing added value and better prices to the farmer?

  • With ever-increasing volumes of data gathered and available, what role should ISA play to ensure that it works first and best for the farmers who generate it?

  • How will artificial intelligence impact ag and what are its application and potential for each farmer?

  • How do we continue to grow the number of ISA farmer members (checkoff) and Advocate members (non-checkoff policy) and engage with them at a deeper level?

  • How do we better integrate the knowledge and expertise of every ISA staff member and the programs and services they manage to speed up innovations and solutions benefiting farmers?

The drafting of a new ISA strategic plan, to be completed and adopted by the board later this spring, will provide answers to some of these questions.

But even more important is the input and involvement of you, the soybean farmer. For 60 years, your knowledge, experience, and guidance has enabled ISA to be respected and impactful here at home, around the country and throughout the world. Only through your continued input and involvement can we make the most of the new year and turn the above challenges into opportunities for the good of our farms, communities and customers.

I’m confident we’re up to the task.