Kirk Leeds Iowa Soybean Association CEO

Executive Insights: Pedal to the metal

May 25, 2022 | Kirk Leeds

The commute from my home in Boone to the office in Ankeny is one I’ve made countless times during my 30-plus years with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA). Using the most direct route (literally drawing a straight line from Boone to Ankeny) would seem to be the most logical path. But taking it would require navigating some pretty rough terrain and even going off-road at times. Instead, I utilize four-lane highways, knowing that although this route adds miles to the trip, the journey is much more desirable.

In many ways, the work we do in developing new uses for soy is like my travel to and from the office. There are no shortcuts to building market access. Developing products or innovating existing ones that can incorporate soy take time and effort. Rarely is there a straight line between what you produce and what people want. Instead, you must go the extra mile and make the extra effort.

That’s certainly true for soy, with China as a prime example. It took U.S. soybean farmers 25 years of building relationships and promoting their product before China purchased one bushel. It was a long and winding road to create demand in the country of 1.4 billion, but the destination was indeed worth the journey.

And look how far we’ve come. From inclusion in biofuels and tires; to feed for fish, poultry, and livestock; to oil for sneakers, asphalt and roofing rejuvenators; we’ve put the pedal to the metal by advancing the quality of what we produce and how soy is used.

The road from the field to production to use is filled with twists and turns. You’re often charting new territory and will undoubtedly encounter dead ends along the way. After all, what established product wants more competition or less market share?

Therefore, there’s also risk in making the journey. But ISA farmer leaders have always been willing to go where others won’t by funding research to create new uses. This is a unique value proposition of the checkoff and one that’s served the industry well.

As we look to the future of new uses for soy, the ultimate destination should always be where higher value intersects with greater volume. New products that move large quantities of soybeans and provide significant value back to the farmer should take priority. That’s why the continued growth of livestock and renewable energy production is vital and the focus of ISA’s demand initiatives.

My daily commute, building markets and new uses for soy have a lot in common. But I can tell you the latter is incredibly more fulfilling. It’s a privilege to be on this journey with you as we continue creating markets and value for soybean farmers. Enjoy the ride in this edition of the Iowa Soybean Review.