Ohio Farmer

U.S. soybeans, Colombian fish need each other

An Ohio farmer is part of a U.S. soy group seeing the impact of soy checkoff dollars.

Jennifer Kiel, Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

April 18, 2024

12 Slides

Fish doesn’t come first to mind when talking about soybeans, but they certainly benefit one another, as a group of U.S. producers saw firsthand during a U.S. Soy checkoff-sponsored trip to Colombia and Panama for its annual See for Yourself mission.

In Neiva, Colombia, U.S. farmers learned about U.S. Soy's role in expanding the aquaculture industry to meet growing global demand for fish and seafood while growing a market for meal. 

“In the future, when we think about sustainable aviation fuel and using most of the U.S. soy production for that, we’re also going to have a lot of soybean meal that we need markets for,” says Adele Flynn, a third-generation Ohio grower on the mission who also is on the boards of the Ohio Soybean Council, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) and Centerra Co-Op.

“Colombia takes in the meal and uses it in feeds. And U.S. Soy has helped in upgrading the way tilapia is raised there by establishing raceway, pond systems, which allow more fish to be raised more efficiently.”

The See for Yourself mission is an annual tour giving U.S. soybean farmers an inside look at the customers, facilities and opportunities their checkoff dollars make possible. During this mission, Feb. 4-11 to Panama and Colombia, farmers first visited the Panama Canal to talk trade and transportation — and to take in the engineering marvel — and then the Colombian cities of Bogota, Neiva and Medellin to learn about an aquaculture farm, a fish processing business, a large animal feed producer, and grocery and farm markets.

Why South America?

Flynn, 38, confesses she was a little uncertain on what to expect during the mission. “I was maybe a little bit pessimistic, wondering why we are investing in South America, especially because everyone knows Brazil is one of our biggest competitors,” she says. “But it wasn’t even a topic down there because their growers have a great relationship with the U.S. They know U.S. soybean farmers create a great product that is grown sustainably with superior quality.”

Fish fed U.S. soy are packaged with a stamp identifying it as being raised with “Sustainable U.S. Soy.”

“One tour bus speaker thanked us for being U.S. soy farmers,” says Flynn, who with her husband, Eric, has three children. They raise 1,100 acres of soy, corn and rye, and alfalfa with Flynn’s dad and uncle. They also have a cow-calf operation, direct-to-consumer freezer beef, show cattle, breeding stock, and most recently added a small goat herd.

“Colombian farmers know they can get a premium for product raised with Sustainable U.S. Soy, and they are able to pay their workers more and make things better for the people there,” Flynn adds.

Increased demand in the past five years from both Colombia and Ecuador boosted U.S. soybean meal exports by 15% and 36%, respectively, above their five-year averages, according to U.S. trade statistics. Meanwhile, increased volume and higher prices saw U.S. soybean meal exports increase in value by 39% over the five-year average from 2017-18 to 2021-22.

The Colombia-U.S. Trade Promotion Agreement — a bilateral free-trade agreement that took effect on May 15, 2012 — gradually broadened Colombia’s access to the full range of U.S. agricultural products as part of the wholesale elimination of almost all the tariffs and quotas that had restricted U.S.-Colombia trade. 

Since 2017, the U.S. has supplied nearly all of Colombia’s soybean imports — compared with an annual average share of 70% during 2009–19 in terms of value.

At a fish processing facility in Neiva, Flynn wondered about cleanliness. “But it was super clean,” she recalls. “We all had to disinfect before entering; they are super aware of the product they are creating.”

In Medellin, Colombia, the group visited GrupoBios, a large animal feed production company where 30% of its feed is produced with U.S. soy. It processes 60 tons of tilapia every day.

“Walking through the plant, people stopped and thanked us because they are able to make a higher monthly income by marketing their feed for a little more with the ‘Sustainable U.S. Soy’ stamp,” she says. “It’s a different way of life down there where the minimum wage is $320 a month, which includes health insurance and retirement. These little things make a difference in their lives.”

In a group blog from the mission, Pennsylvania farmer Ricky Telesz wrote on Day 4, “We visited a flower market and a fresh fruit and produce market. It was exciting to see how locals sell to other locals. It was different compared to what you see at big-box stores in the U.S. It was fantastic to see all the flowers and how beautiful they were. The price of roses was about one dollar for two dozen roses. You cannot find that price back home.”

Getting involved

Flynn was recently elected as the OFBF treasurer. She is a delegate for the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching for Ohio State University, a 4-H adviser, and says she can see herself getting more involved with U.S. Soy.

“I think it’s important to serve, support and promote the industry that is our life,” Flynn says, while pointing out that, “All soy farmers pay into the checkoff, and anyone can apply to go [on the mission] — it’s great to get new people involved.”

The educational mission aims to cultivate the next generation of soybean leaders, and this group saw how their soy checkoff investments affect other parts of the world and drive demand for U.S. soy. Many efforts are done in conjunction with partners such as the U.S.A. Poultry & Egg Export Council, U.S. Soybean Export Council, and U.S. Meat Export Federation.

“I didn’t realize how many people work day-to-day to find new markets and continue to build on existing relationships,” Flynn says. “In all the places we stayed, we went to meat markets where U.S. meat was sold and heard from the market managers about how they promote U.S. meats. Colombia is only a small part of the global market. How big of an impact can we make all over the world?”

In addition to Flynn and Telesz, other See for Yourself farmer participants included Nickolas Sousek, Nebraska; Mason Welden, Kentucky; Heath Houch, Illinois; Christian Good, Mississippi; Jared Nash, Kansas; Mary Stewart, Maryland; Brock Grubbs, Iowa; Everett Mason, Arkansas; and Ryan Wilson, Missouri.

The next See for Yourself mission will take place in the winter and spring of 2025, and applications must be submitted by the fall. For more information on the application and to read blog posts of the farmer participants, visit unitedsoybeanboard.com/see-for-yourself and the See for Yourself YouTube channel

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About the Author(s)

Jennifer Kiel

Editor, Michigan Farmer and Ohio Farmer

While Jennifer is not a farmer and did not grow up on a farm, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone with more appreciation for the people who grow our food and fiber, live the lifestyles and practice the morals that bind many farm families," she says.

Before taking over as editor of Michigan Farmer in 2003, she served three years as the manager of communications and development for the American Farmland Trust Central Great Lakes Regional Office in Michigan and as director of communications with Michigan Agri-Business Association. Previously, she was the communications manager at Michigan Farm Bureau's state headquarters. She also lists 10 years of experience at six different daily and weekly Michigan newspapers on her impressive resume.

Jennifer lives in St. Johns with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 19, and Emily 16.

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