Farm Progress

Illinois Soybean Association Chairman Daryl Cates looks back on a long history of partnership between Prairie Farmer and the state's soybean industry.

November 4, 2016

4 Min Read

In 1851, Dr. Benjamin Franklin Edwards was traveling from San Francisco to Alton, Ill. At the port while waiting for his ship, he was asked to medically examine a quarantined Japanese crew from another merchant ship. He received "Japan peas" as a gift. Dr. Edwards gave the seed to John H. Lea of the Alton Horticultural Society, who planted them in his garden in 1851.

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The rest, as they say, is history. And as amazing as this story is of soybeans first arriving in Illinois, also amazing is that Prairie Farmer already was at the end of its first decade of existence. The Illinois Soybean Association congratulates Prairie Farmer on its 175th anniversary. We are proud to be a partner in helping the state's farmers enhance profitability. We look forward to the years ahead as we promote and help soybeans get to markets, educate growers about best practices and influence decision-makers who impact soybean farmers.

Following Lea's soybean planting and seed distribution to other states, the new soybean crop was tested in the U.S. for use in pastures for hay, silage and soiling, both alone and with other crops. By the early 1900s, soybeans were being planted and processed for their oil and meal. Production and the markets for soybeans continued to expand throughout the century.

By 1964, Champaign County farmer Lyle Grace noted, "Soybeans were the baby of farming. Everyone was raising them more and more, but was not doing a very good job with marketing." Grace and others formed the Land of Lincoln Soybean Association in 1964.

During the same time, Illinois and other states affiliated with the American Soybean Association supported legislation to enable a first-point-of-sale deduction of one-half to 1 cent per bushel of soybeans, so that farmer-elected boards could invest these checkoff funds for market development and research. By 1974, the Illinois soybean checkoff was born. Profitability and long-term economic and environmental sustainability became organized priorities. ISA was focused on its mission to build and maintain competitiveness for Illinois soybean farmers.

Today ISA is still focused on its mission: to ensure Illinois soy is the highest quality, most dependable, sustainable and competitive in the global marketplace. Our goal is to achieve maximum profitability and global competitive positioning for soy from Illinois.

As we look forward, we have updated our strategic direction for 2017-20. Our target is to use 600 million bushels of Illinois soybeans by 2020, and we are likely to get there sooner.

We have shifted our funding focus to target audiences. One of those key audiences is the marketplace — our customers. To sell more Illinois soybeans, we need to promote preference for them in our export markets and for use in biodiesel and animal agriculture. We are looking at growing exports of Illinois soy via containers and increasing volume of sales where we have strategic advantage, all as we promote the highest-quality soybean, oil and meal products we can.

On the biodiesel front, we want to boost consumption from B11 to B20 blends. We also want to support animal agriculture in Illinois and in close proximity to our state to ensure markets for meat products and to increase overall volume of soy used in animal feeds.

Another key audience is farmers. We continue to help optimize farmer profitability by leveraging tools and technologies that increase yields and sustainability. We also are building farmer support, recognition and participation in ISA programs, and providing business management education to further enhance profitability.

Our third major audience is stakeholders and influencers. ISA expands its influence and reach through member, corporate, industry and advocacy efforts that positively affect Illinois soybean farmers. For instance, we continue to promote recognition of farmer sustainability practices, as well as educate consumers in the Chicago area about the benefits of soy. We also want Illinois soybeans and products to reach destinations efficiently. We are exploring alternatives for road, bridge, rail and river systems, Illinois logistics infrastructure optimization, and road weight limits.

With membership dollars, we advocate for equitable public policies and generate opportunities to clear the way to international markets. We help growers take action through Voice for Soy, and we represent the Illinois soybean industry in Springfield and Washington, D.C.

Illinois soybean farmers thank Prairie Farmer for helping us advance our mission. We look forward to continued collaboration for the next 175 years and beyond.

Cates is chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association. He farms near Columbia.

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