Chief Executive Officer of the Iowa Soybean Association

(Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: Making the Checkoff pay off

September 26, 2022 | Kirk Leeds

The year was 1990.

Demolition of the Berlin Wall officially began, Iraq invaded Kuwait, the first full season of “The Simpsons” aired, and “Home Alone” and “Dances with Wolves” were box office hits.

It was also the year the national soybean checkoff was established as part of the 1990 Farm Bill.

Much like foreign policy, sitcoms and Hollywood productions, the checkoff has its critics. While the oilseed’s rapid ascent in production and value has generated strong support for the checkoff, questions about its need and importance remain, especially true during times of strong market prices.

We welcome the scrutiny. Ensuring a return on investment is fundamental to farming and the farmer leaders who oversee the checkoff.

Soybean production is a key indicator of the industry’s vitality as it is driven by demand. Since 1990, U.S. production of the oilseed has increased from 1.9 billion bushels to 4.4 billion bushels in 2021 (including a record 622 million bushels in Iowa). Simultaneously, acres planted to soybeans increased nationally from 57.8 million to nearly 90 million.

Checkoff investments in basic and applied research have played a key role in boosting yields. Many of today’s approaches to managing pests and diseases resulted from research not undertaken by the private sector but by checkoff investments. The checkoff also ensures work continues on key research topics as determined by farmers and that findings are available to all soybean farmers.

Biodiesel is a timely example of how the checkoff pays off. Soybean farmers began developing the product 30 years ago when there was a glut of soybean oil. Checkoff dollars were invested in testing the product and proving that it worked. Checkoff dollars guided the product through the regulatory approval process and promoted biodiesel with cities, transportation companies and truckers. Today, biodiesel production totals 3.2 billion gallons and is expected to grow to 6 billion by 2030. The industry’s evolution to renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel would not exist without soybean farmers’ investment with their checkoff dollars.

Checkoff investments go beyond the U.S. Long before China became the largest soybean market in the world, U.S. soybean farmers and their checkoff dollars were at work building demand. Simple demonstrations on how to utilize soybean meal in feed rations and soy oil as a healthy cooking oil quickly broadened to include training on how best to use futures and other marketing tools to purchase increasing amounts of high quality soybeans.

More recently, Iowa checkoff investments were instrumental in demonstrating how best to incorporate soy-based feed into a more sustainable aquaculture system. The approach is now widely used throughout Asia, including China and Bangladesh.

The checkoff program created by, for and overseen by farmers provides the financial resources needed to drive demand, lower costs, improve efficiencies and environmental performance, and distribute timely and essential information. Get engaged with the Iowa Soybean Association by activating or confirming your no-cost farmer membership, attending meetings, engaging in our research and experiencing firsthand the many ways your checkoff pays off.