Suzanne on her farm near Farmersburg (Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)
Suzanne Shirbroun leads ISA into its 60th year
January 11, 2024 | Bethany Baratta
Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) President Suzanne Shirbroun is acutely aware of the challenges that persist for Iowa soybean farmers. A sixth generation farmer, Shirbroun is ushering in the seventh generation — her son Andrey — on her family’s farm near Farmersburg.
But she’s also optimistic about leading the state’s 22-member volunteer board of directors tasked with allocating priorities and funding on behalf of soybean farmers. And she doesn’t take that responsibility lightly.
“When I have to make a decision on the board, I step back and ask, ‘How is this going to help the Iowa soybean farmer? Am I going to be proud to go back to farmers and say this is what the Iowa Soybean Association is doing?’ That’s my litmus test.”
Shirbroun says one of her top priorities as ISA president is to help consumers and policymakers understand what farmers are doing on their farm, and how policy shapes those decisions.
As an Iowa Front 40 champion, Shirbroun uses her platform to talk about the family’s conservation efforts. After watching her grandfather begin terracing, Shirbroun knew conservation would be important in the continuation of a family farm. She and her husband, Joe, kept and added terraces and currently practice no-till, conservation tillage, contour farming and implement waterways, cover crops, CRP and pollinator habitats.
As a member of CommonGround, a program created to connect farm moms with urban moms, Shirbroun communicated about life on the farm, often reassuring other moms that farmers take care of the crops they grow and the animals they raise.
As a mom raising three sons, she understands the role youth play in the future of agriculture. Suzanne and Joe annually coach and support a 4-H crop scouting team to deepen the participants’ interest in agronomy. The opportunity came full circle when their first team member, Nick Boehm, returned as a seed associate for the Shirbroun’s Pioneer seed agency.
Investing in research
Soybeans are a relatively new crop to Shirbroun’s area in Clayton County in northeast Iowa. Known for its hills and dairy farms, Shirbroun remembers her parents adding soybeans to the family’s crop operation when she was a junior in high school.
She seeks expertise from ISA’s Research Center for Farming Innovation to understand how they could raise soybeans more efficiently.
Investing in research efforts that further the industry is vital to Shirbroun, who studied agronomy and pest management at Iowa State University. She says her involvement on the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP) board, the Iowa Soybean Research Center at Iowa State and the ISA board has demonstrated how combining efforts and funding between state and regional programs benefits the entire industry.
“If we stop funding research, there’s going to be a hole in the pipeline and we’re going to airlock,” she says. “We need to keep the pipeline full of information and research that’s going to help our Iowa and Midwest soybean farmers.”
Coordination also means a quicker response to researching pests and diseases which may be new to the area, like the orange gall midge.
“If it wouldn’t have been for NCSRP and others putting money toward researching gall midge, we’d be a season behind in understanding and managing for the pest,” she says.
Locally, building demand for soybeans through biofuels — including sustainable aviation fuel, renewable diesel, and biodiesel — broadens the demand and use of Iowa-grown soybeans. Globally, that means additional soybean meal available. A trade mission to Chile in June 2023 demonstrated the value of being a high-quality supplier of U.S. soy.
A trade mission to Myanmar connected how soybeans grown on farms like Suzanne’s are necessary to customers around the world. Meeting Noe Noe Lwin, a regional director for the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) for the Myanmar region, highlighted how Shirbroun’s checkoff dollars — and soy — were being used to educate farmers and feed millers in the region about how to use the product in aquaculture.
“We need more markets,” Shirbroun says. “Price is always going to be a main topic, but we have to cultivate these relationships so when we are priced right, we can take advantage of that opportunity.”