Planting Seeds for Future Growth and Prosperity

Self-sustaining from an economic standpoint, leadership at the United Soybean Board works on behalf of U.S. farmers to help them prosper in an ever-competitive global marketplace.

Though its formation required an act of Congress, the United Soybean Board has consisted of farmers, worked for the betterment of farmers, and been entirely funded by farmers (free of taxpayer subsidies) since the advocacy group’s inception more than three decades ago.

Following the near-universal hardship suffered during “The Farm Crisis” of the 1980s, soybean growers collectively came together and urged federal legislators to pass a provision in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 that permitted a national soybean “checkoff” system — a minuscule 0.5% “due” or assessment taken from the net market price per bushel of soybeans sold by each individual farmer.

What’s done with the economic sacrifice of every U.S. soybean farmer is ultimately determined by a representative sample of their peers — the 77 volunteer-farmer leaders of the United Soybean Board who are nominated by their state-level checkoff organizations and then appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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“We focus our investments from the soybean checkoff on education, promotion and research,” said Northeast Louisiana soybean farmer Garrett Marsh, a director for the United Soybean Board. “It’s a strategic effort to foster demand for U.S. soy. That’s always at the front of our minds: increasing demand for U.S. soy. In a way, through the checkoff, farmers are investing in their own future. It’s a program created by farmers, run by farmers, and exists to serve farmers.”

A portion of funds collected and allocated by the United Soybean Board goes to nurture
and promote advancements in the planting, growing, and harvesting processes. But beyond that, volunteer leaders have had the foresight over the years to invest in peripheral areas of the soybean economy that will ultimately prop up farmers’ annual revenue and profits.

For example, the United Soybean Board has worked tirelessly in expanding and developing international markets — ensuring an increased global demand for their product. Additionally, checkoff funds have aided in research and development of non- edible applications for soybeans in products like rubber, industrial adhesives and lubricants, and plastics. Continued diversification of soybean uses serves as a form of protection for U.S. farmers against volatile and unpredictable trends in the global food supply economy.

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Of course, to reap the financial rewards of yearly harvests, soybean farmers must have efficient and cost-effective methods of distributing their crop domestically and exporting it to the rest of the world. Knowing that, the United Soybean Board has developed strong relationships and forged partnerships with inland waterway transit hubs along the Mississippi River — midwestern farmers’ main commerce artery to the global marketplace.

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At the top of that partnership list lies the Port of South Louisiana — the epicenter of grain maritime transport.

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“We’re obviously known as an agriculture port,” Port of South Louisiana Director of Communications Micah Cormier said. “Sixty percent of the nation’s grain comes out of our port, so it is our top commodity. Therefore, the relationship we have with farmers, like soybean farmers, across America is to promise to do what we can to get that grain out to feed the world.”

Cormier said that through the Mississippi River, the Port is connected to 31 states where grain is produced, and all of that product has to make it down to lower Mississippi River to be exported from there, where seven of the nine grain elevators in the state are located.

“That’s what we do, which enables soybean farmers to do what they do,” Cormier said. “So, there’s a real connectivity and dependence on one another — the ports and farmers — in our relationship.”

In recent years, the United Soybean Board — along with contemporary organizations like the Soybean Expert Council, the Soy Transportation Coalition, and the American Soybean Association — allocated checkoff funding toward research, planning and design of various domestic maritime infrastructure improvements and additions. Most notably, in 2019 the USB put $2 million toward the proposed dredging of the lower Mississippi River from 45 feet to 50 feet — a financial contribution that spoke volumes to the importance of the project and set the stage for the Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to fully fund and commence dredging operations a year later.

“Our transportation infrastructure is one of the best in the world,” Marsh said. “But to keep it that way, it needs to be attended to and modernized to keep our farmers and growers competitive. It can’t just sit and stay the same. It must evolve and keep improving to maintain the competitive advantage U.S. soybean farmers currently enjoy.”

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To put the lower Mississippi dredging issue into context, the five-foot depth increase enables shippers to navigate larger vessels through the mouth of the river capable of handling 500,000 bushels of soybeans — roughly 2.5 million bushels to 3 million bushels per ship. In turn, that leads to lower shipping costs, less environmental impact, and larger volumes of soybeans at a more affordable prices for consumers but competitive prices for farmers.

“A project that large in scope — dredging the Mississippi River — has direct and indirect benefits for U.S. soybean farmers and grain producers, in general,” Cormier said. “There are layers of benefits for farmers, and the United Soybean Board recognizes that and has, in a sense, put their ‘money where their mouth is’ when it comes to the importance of improving and maintaining maritime infrastructure.”

Echoing that same spirit of synergy, officials at the Port of South Louisiana have recognized and backed USB’s influence in raising awareness and ultimately addressing infrastructure issues along other portions of the Mississippi River necessary to maintain an economically-efficient supply chain.

For instance, a few years ago the USB supplied initial research funding for the improvement and enhancement of Lock and Dam 25 of the Mississippi River, located along the Illinois and Missouri board, much like it did to kickstart the south Louisiana dredging project. Sure enough, that initial funding emphasized the need to get this project started and ultimately resulted in a ceremonial groundbreaking held in May 2023. Once construction is complete, the lock chamber will have doubled in size, from 600 feet to 1,200 feet, which will substantially reduce delays and increase safety.

“You look at a map, and essentially every midwestern state contains a river that connects to the Mississippi River,” Marsh said. “I believe it’s 89 percent of U.S. soy is shipped out of the Gulf region, so it’s one of our most critical infrastructure major maritime highways — and even that might be an understatement. That river is what keeps us competitive compared to the rest of the world, so an investment in the river is an investment in U.S. soy farmers.”

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