SFY Mission showed producers how their soybean checkoff dollars are spent
NEW ORLEANS, La. -- With 55 percent of U.S.-grown soybeans making their way into the export market in 2008-2009, the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council has developed a program to show producers statewide just how their checkoff dollars are helping to fund international marketing programs.
Last week, 23 soybean producers and ag industry professionals traveled to New Orleans, La., to see the journey their Minnesota soybeans take after leaving grain terminals on the northern end of the Mississippi River.
It was the first time the See For Yourself program, established four years ago, took participants to the port city.
Jim Palmer, executive director of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA), said the SFY mission was developed as a tool to have soybean growers evaluate their state's use of checkoff dollars.
"There's something about being able to see it first hand -- it's real. It's not a brochure, it's not a video tape, it's an experience," said Palmer. "You're seeing the dust, you're seeing the grain being unloaded from the barge and being loaded onto the ship and you're seeing the foreign flag on the vessel."
The goal of SFY, said Palmer, is to give producers a better understanding of what international marketing is, and how the soybean checkoff has a positive impact on their dollars.
"I'm not sure people totally comprehend everything that entails moving 50 percent of their commodity internationally," he added.
In order to keep international buyers interested in U.S. soybeans, Palmer said a lot of time is spent showing trade teams the U.S. crop, explaining quality, price terms and availability, demonstrating new uses and processing, and letting buyers know the U.S. is a dependable supplier.
"We're the ones working with that customer to show him all the things he should think about when he's buying," Palmer said. "Also, if there are problems with a commodity, he (knows he) can come to us."
Since this year's trip focused on international marketing, participants learned of MSGA's involvement in promoting soybeans in countries throughout Asia and the Middle East.
John Guse, a soybean farmer from Mapleton, said he applied for the SFY mission to see just how soybean checkoff dollars are being spent.
"I heard that we were going to meet trade groups, and I'd done that before," he added.
Guse, who farms in portions of four counties in south central Minnesota, said he had somewhat of an idea on how checkoff dollars are used, but he learned quite a bit more while on the trip.
"I learned how we work with foreign countries," he said. "If there's a country that uses (soybeans) for food, we actually show them how to use it."
Guse's favorite experience on the trip was meeting with the international teams from Egypt, Iraq and Turkey while in Atlanta, Ga.
"Some of them are trying to find ways to buy more direct than through the big corporations," he said. "Their interest in us is as much as our interest is in them buying our product."
Lee Erickson, a rural Mountain Lake farmer who grows corn, soybeans and alfalfa, represented the Midwest Shippers Association on the SFY mission trip. The Midwest Shippers group works primarily with farmers who supply niche markets, such as growing soybeans processed into tofu.
Because of his involvement in the shipping industry, Erickson said his favorite portion of the trip were the tours of the Port of New Orleans and the USDA's Federal Grain Inspection Service office in Destrehan, La.
"One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was just see the bigger picture," Erickson said. "We see all of the trucks lined up at the elevator to unload their corn and soybeans. We see that all the time ... but that's just the beginning of it. We saw barges being filled -- that's 50,000 bushels, and there wasn't just one barge there. They were stacked up."
SFY mission participants toured both a CHS grain handling operation in Myrtle Grove, La., and a Bunge grain operation in Destrehan, and watched as samples were being taken consistently to ensure the product headed overseas met specifications.
"To see that done on a mass basis like that was really interesting," Erickson said of the grading. "To see the process, how the USDA tests for different criteria ... I think it really shows how it gives credibility to the system."
In addition to the tours and meeting international teams, the SFY participants attending programs at the International Poultry Expo in Atlanta, where they met people from all around the world who are interested in buying U.S. soybeans and soybean products.
Palmer, who earlier in the trip explained that the main reason for the mission was to introduce soybean farmers with their consumers around the world, said the state's soybean checkoff has nearly a 75 percent approval rating, making it one of the highest among commodity groups in the state who have a checkoff.
"This is the ultimate in transparency -- to establish credibility by taking people firsthand and giving them the opportunity to see what's entailed and how we're working in the industry," he added.