ISA CEO Kirk Leeds poses for a portrait

(Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Executive Insights: Advocacy Matters

January 20, 2021 | Aaron Putze, APR

As another legislative session begins in Iowa and a 46th president takes the oath of office in Washington, D.C., advocacy takes center stage. The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA)’s success and that of the industry and farmers it represents depends on advocates and advocacy. ISA CEO Kirk Leeds speaks to the importance of both. 

Define advocacy.

It’s people promoting their organization, because passion is a necessary part of doing business. People and the organizations they represent must speak to the issues that matter. It’s important to influence by building awareness, and you do that through advocacy. ISA is driven to deliver policy and regulatory wins and that starts with being effective advocates. 

What is ISA’s approach to advocacy?

We’ve been working on behalf of farmers for nearly 60 years. We’re at the Iowa statehouse and U.S. Capitol talking about what farmers need and their expectations. It’s what we do and advocate membership is the catalyst. 

What’s ISA’s brand as an advocate?

An organization that offers solutions backed by data and information. Elected officials can see through blue smoke and candid rhetoric. They know who’s honest. We look to inform before seeking support for policies. We’re transparent, objective and go where the data leads. This approach makes us different and effective. 

Where has ISA had an impact through advocacy?

Conservation, soil health and water. Iowa soybean farmers have voluntarily invested in research and practices that benefit production and environmental quality. When we show up for conversations about these topics, we’re credible because the audience knows we have the data to support our position. 

What about the disaster assistance soybean farmers received in 2020?

 We played a key role in advocating for farmers when China placed tariffs on U.S. soybean imports. We provided information calculating the unprecedented impact the tariffs would have on the financial well-being of soybean farmers. Our credibility showed when the first round of payments was announced.

The Iowa Food & Family Project celebrates 10 years in April. How has that advocacy benefited soybean farmers?

 Food-minded Iowan’s care about how food is produced. The Iowa FFP approaches people and issues with heart and firsthand knowledge. This gives Iowa FFP credibility and believability, and it shows. Iowa FFP has attracted an audience of more than 130,000 Iowan’s for ongoing conversations about modern agriculture. Now that’s impact!

How does membership impact advocacy?

 Advocacy needs resources. Associations, including ISA, gain strength from membership. We use non-checkoff resources to positively influence policy and regulatory matters. So, we need farmers and allied partners to step forward and invest in advocate membership. This ensures ISA will have knowledgeable and dedicated staff representing members and having their best interests in mind when they can’t be at the capitol or a hearing. 

What priority issues will need effective advocacy in 2021?

 Trade and opening markets for soybeans. About 70% of the U.S. soybean crop is exported so we must have market access. Second, we need to make the case for modern agriculture. Engaging with consumers is critically important as people want to know more about food, sustainability, and traceability. Finally, the economics of agriculture will continue to be impacted by the changing winds of administrations and policy. Income protection for farmers will be needed given the many circumstances completely out of farmers’ control. We need farmers to survive and thrive. The right kind of policies will be needed, as will innovative thinking like tying incentives to boost more environmental practices. It’s going to be an exciting time as we begin discussing the future of farm and food programs. Effective advocacy has never been more important.

This story was originally published in the January 2021 issue of the Iowa Soybean Review.