Soybean field in the morning

(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / File Photo)

Transparency and traceability

October 1, 2023 | Jeff Hutton

From the field to dinner plate, from the grain elevator to the fuel tank, from the silo to the end product overseas — transparency and traceability are critical to the future of soybean production.

“Traceability and transparency have been topics of conversation for many years, but it’s challenging to envision how it would work for a bulk commodity crop like soybeans,” Jennifer Coleman, director of communications for Aimpoint Research, told farmers, ag professionals, academics and other stakeholders at the Soybean Research Forum and Think Tank this summer.

Consumer demand is a market driver, Coleman says. They’re demanding transparency on food origination, safety, and other food-related factors more than ever.

“Experience is much more important to millennials,” she says. “It’s not just about having the food but experiencing their food.”

For 63% of consumers, knowing where their food comes from increases their trust, while 89% believe food producers and companies have an obligation to be transparent, Coleman added.

Traceability, she says, has been a hallmark of many products, but not as much of a focus for soybeans and other commodities.

“There is more than just one driver moving this trend toward greater transparency and traceability,” Coleman says. “It’s not just consumer demand, it’s also concerns about food safety, the ability to prove claims, and protection from liability. Secondly, there are a lot of companies creating new technologies that will be able to solve the challenges in tracing bulk commodities and it’s evolving quickly.”

Bridging supply and demand

Katherine Drake Stowe, director of the U.S. Soybean Research Collaborative, says the event was created to facilitate these forward-thinking conversations.

“Farmers’ questions today are much more complex than they were 30 years ago and it will take thinking about research differently to answer those questions and continue to drive the industry forward,” says Stowe.

Unlike other meetings and events which may focus on one area of the soybean industry, the Think Tank brings together a diverse set of players from across the value chain.

“The Think Tank is one of the only times a year we have a diverse cross section of farmers, academics and industry professionals all in the same room sharing ideas and exchanging knowledge,” Stowe says. “Having the opportunity for these individuals to be exposed to each other is powerful for fueling future collaborations and innovations.” 

It’s a wrap

Iowa Soybean Association Director of Research Joe McClure says the Think Tank continues to facilitate discussions that ultimately helps he and other participants see the bigger picture.

“The Think Tank was a great opportunity to join a diverse group of people from the soy industry and satellite industries to think about what the future could look like, the evolution of the consumer and the questions that need to be explored so farmers can stay viable and excel, says McClure. “Future solutions will require organizations who normally would never need to collaborate to come together on novel research projects. More questions are asked than solutions given at this meeting, and this is where new collaborations can start to look into these questions.”

A way forward

At the conclusion of the 2023 Think Tank, participants identified and prioritized the top needs related to transparency and traceability in the soybean industry. They brainstormed strategies to meet those needs. Six themes emerged:

Communication throughout the value chain

Hold grain buyer round tables to understand how they think about transparency and traceability, including their plans for infrastructure.

Defining goal posts

Create a transparency protocol and stick to it as an industry. Try not to jump into every trend as soon as it is demanded by a food company.

Connect with consumers

Use data to make better management decisions. Share the facts that align with consumers’ shared values. Tell stories of what is happening on farm and in ag research.

Farmer buy-in

Help farmers better understand the landscape of traceability, intellectual property, transparency and sustainability.

Data collection

Seamless integration of data captured on farm into third party audits, sustainability initiatives, etc.

Agronomic innovation

Increased profitability to encourage adoption of new practices.