CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: Resist shiny object syndrome

November 1, 2022 | Kirk Leeds

Shiny object syndrome is defined as placing undue attention on an idea that is new or trendy yet dropping it as soon as something new takes its place.

Put more simply, it’s a blurring of priorities due to an inability to focus on what matters most.

We all often suffer from shiny object syndrome, although it seems especially acute for backyard enthusiasts like me. It’s not uncommon to start one task (clean patio furniture), only to be distracted upon seeing another job that needs to be done (water plants), only to start another (trim branches), then another (weed the flowerbeds), and then another (mow the grass). You get the picture. Before long, several projects are underway and the one left undone is atop the list of to-dos that took me to the backyard in the first place.

Focus demands discipline. When discipline is lacking, we can be busy with many things but lose sight of what’s most important and impactful.

This analogy has merit when reflecting on the animal ag industry and its relevance to soybean farmers. Soybean production took root and grew exponentially in Iowa and beyond because of its value as an ingredient for livestock, poultry and dairy feed. The production of pork, poultry, egg, beef, milk, turkey and now fish requires reliable quantities of high-quality protein. Soybean meal has delivered, but its continued relevance as a go-to feed ingredient can’t be taken for granted.

Growth forecasts for soy-based biodiesel, renewable diesel, sustainable aviation fuel and Bioheat® have generated considerable enthusiasm throughout the soy marketplace, and rightfully so. While some of these predictions defy comprehension (and dare I say, reality), there’s no denying the correlation between intensifying demand for soybean oil and strengthening soybean prices.

Yet this growth – whether slow or meteoric – shouldn’t distract us from being the protein source of choice for the livestock industry, long the bedrock of soybean demand.

Decades of projects supported by Iowa soybean farmers and funded by the soybean checkoff have generated consistent growth in domestic and international demand for pork, poultry, eggs, beef, turkey, milk and fish. Our investment in the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) is a prime example. Launched in 2004, CSIF has been a catalyst for the responsible and successful growth of livestock and poultry production. That investment is delivering for Iowa farmers, evident by the industry’s strong demand pull for soy in areas where animal ag production facilities were once few and far between.

Increased soybean oil demand has been a boon to prices. But be mindful that much of present and projected growth has been stimulated by government policy and corporate environmental social governance pledges. Call me a skeptic, but market share built upon the whims of Washington, D.C., bureaucrats and shifting consumer sentiment makes me nervous about the market’s long-term stability.

With November’s arrival, we give thanks for many things. For soybean farmers, surging demand for plant-based, renewable energy is one of them. But let’s resist shiny object syndrome and remain steadfast in our support of the animal ag and aquaculture industries.