Chief Executive Officer Kirk Leeds of the Iowa Soybean

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: The Courage to Live Vertically

November 2, 2021 | Kirk Leeds

Courage is contagious.” It was a declaration shared by author, speaker and expert mountain climber Manley Feinberg while keynoting a recent meeting of state and national soybean staff in Nashville.

His perspectives, obtained from decades of “living vertical,” were empowering. Courage is mandatory when big wall climbing and “camping” alongside the face of a sheer granite cliff suspended 7,500 feet above a canyon floor. It’s also a must when traveling to some of the world’s most primitive and pristine places to scale treacherous terrain – from El Capitan in Yosemite National Park to the incredible walls of the Aksu Valley in Kyrgyzstan.

“Living vertical” is leaving your comfort zone and the security of living horizontal. “It makes you sharpen your focus and commit to something worth reaching for,” Feinberg says. Exhibiting courage becomes contagious, he adds, leading one to follow one accomplishment with another.

The farmer leaders of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) have long acted courageously. ISA unified two soybean boards into one. And they continue to make a difference on a host of issues, from enhancing consumer trust in modern ag to improving soybean production and demand (and the infrastructure connecting both). The proof is creating and helping lead the Iowa Food & Family Project, North Central Soybean Research Program, Research Center for Farming Innovation, Soy Transportation Coalition and Iowa Biodiesel Board.

More recently, ISA launched the Soil & Water Outcomes Fund (SWOF). As stakeholders in environmental stewardship, farmers know they must engage in the inner workings of the carbon sequestration market to understand the obstacles and opportunities it presents.

SWOF compensates farmers for achieving measurable improvements in carbon emissions and water quality. Paying both sets it apart from other carbon programs, providing more significant financial payments to farmers and increasing the pace and scale of adoption of sustainability practices. Nearly 10,000 acres in Iowa were enrolled in SWOF’s first year, increasing to 100,000 in multiple states in Year 2. Enrollment of more than 200,000 acres is expected in 2022.

ISA has also had the courage to take a new look at how the industry can impact policy. Last year’s launch of a multistate soybean collaborative involving Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Iowa will commit resources to dig deeper on legislative and regulatory matters. Breaking the confines of traditional policy work enables the soybean industry to address regional issues impacting farmers more effectively.

A timely example is biofuels. Explosive growth of renewable diesel demand, driven largely by policy and regulatory incentives, is having a sudden and profound impact on soybean oil and meal demand.

On the oil side, we’re experiencing industry shockwaves as demand skyrockets. This, in turn, distorts the meal/oil value proposition. While these happenings are good news for soybean prices and livestock farmers in the near term, the potential impacts 3-5 years out are more difficult to forecast and quantify. What we do know is that government interference in basic supply and demand formulas often has unintended consequences. Dramatic increases in demand for soybean oil will have global implications and require the very best of ISA to ensure successful policy outcomes for farmers and our domestic and global customers.

ISA has long had the courage to lead. What new programs will ISA develop to positively influence the industry and support farmers in the years ahead? No one knows for sure. What is certain, however, is that the association will continue to “live vertically” to ensure the industry’s continued growth and prosperity.