Iowa Soybean Association Chief Executive Officer

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: It takes more than tech to compete

March 11, 2022 | Kirk Leeds

Greetings from Mato Grosso, the agricultural epicenter of Brazil. As I wrote this column in February, being in Mato Grasso was a highlight of a two-week Iowa Soybean Association leader trip to the country of 210 million.

Our time in Brazil (Jan. 31-Feb. 14) enabled us to better understand the country’s soybean production output and potential, the quality of its infrastructure, and changes in government policy and regulations.

Given our expedition, it’s fitting this edition of the Iowa Soybean Review focuses on technology. You can’t miss it while traveling, from the touch screens at ticketing counters and facial recognition scanners that permit boarding to the many apps enabling travelers to stay connected with family and colleagues.

In addition to expediting travel, technology enables us to farm better and produce more. And not just in the U.S.

Before embarking on a similar trip to Brazil several years ago, I was asked if I was “going down there to teach them how to grow soybeans?” My reply was they already knew. Brazilian farmers have taken full advantage of technology. Combined with the country’s vast size and abundant natural resources, millions of acres of so-called “green desert” now produce enormous quantities of soybeans, corn, cotton, beef and other commodities.

This evolution has been swift. Brazil surpassed the U.S. in soybean production for the first time just five years ago. Now it’s widening its lead, outproducing the U.S. by 918 million bushels in 2020-21. This trend will continue as Brazil transitions millions more acres into commodity production (read Aaron Putze’s summary of our time in Brazil on Pages 20 - 25 of this edition).

Brazil’s meteoric rise as the world’s leading producer of soybeans didn’t happen by chance. A global economy has leveled the playing field for accessing and using technology. U.S. farmers once benefited early and often from access to better equipment, genetics and crop protection products. That window has all but closed. There’s simply too much incentive for companies doing business internationally to make driverless tractors and plants that self-diagnose and disclose their agronomic needs to as many farmers as quickly as possible.

To be competitive and maximize profit opportunities over the coming decades, Iowa and U.S. soybean farmers must better anticipate consumers’ evolving wants and needs and meet them by connecting every facet of the soybean industry value chain. We must also go above and beyond in forging strong personal relationships with customers and new industry allies and make significant investments in our nation’s farm-to-market infrastructure.

It will take more than technology to be the world’s most competitive and profitable soybean producer. Are Iowa and U.S. soybean farmers ready for this moment?