Most U.S. soybean farmers know they employ sustainable farming methods, such as conservation tillage, cover crops and tactics that help minimize nutrient runoff. Now a group of representatives from global food companies know it, too.
The United Soybean Board (USB) and soy checkoff's Sustainability Initiative recently organized an educational series of U.S. farm tours through three states that showed five food-industry employees firsthand what U.S. soybean farmers do to keep improving their farm's sustainability performance. The companies represented included Kellogg's, Kraft, Sodexo and Unilever, which together use a total of about 3.5 billion pounds of soybean oil annually.
"As a food company, we're dependent upon the sustainability of farmers and want to promote their efforts," says Sherilyn Brodersen, Kraft Foods' sustainable agriculture lead for the Americas. "There are so many progressive measures farmers have taken, and I'll take that information back to my company, share those stories and help increase consumers' awareness."
The food industry remains by far the biggest user of U.S. soy oil, consuming more than 80 percent of it every year. And the importance the food industry and consumers place on using sustainably sourced ingredients continues to grow.
The program took participants to farms in three large and diverse soybean-producing states - Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska - and showed them a large array of farm-management practices used today. Participants learned about strip tilling, how technology can improve efficiency, methods to remove nutrients from runoff water and more.
"Many people don't realize how high of a priority U.S. farmers place on being good stewards of our resources," says Nebraska soybean farmer Mike Thede, team lead for the checkoff's Sustainability Initiative. "I think it's important to show people how common these practices are among farmers and how we're always looking to improve even more."
The 69 farmer-directors of USB oversee the investments of the soy checkoff to maximize profit opportunities for all U.S. soybean farmers. These volunteers invest and leverage checkoff funds to increase the value of U.S. soy meal and oil, to ensure U.S. soybean farmers and their customers have the freedom and infrastructure to operate, and to meet the needs of U.S. soy's customers. As stipulated in the federal Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff.