A delegation from the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) visited the United Kingdom for four days at the end of January. Included in the group were ISA chair Daryl Cates, vice chair Lynn Rohrscheib, treasurer Stan Born, and USSEC director Sharon Covert, along with six other ISA board members and four ISA staff, including CEO Craig Ratajczyk. The objective of the visit was to gather insights into the current dynamics of the soybean market in the UK and engage with industry contacts on issues such as Brexit, sustainability, and future U.S.-UK bilateral trade. Eugene Philhower, USSEC Representative – Northern Europe, developed the schedule and program in cooperation with USSEC consultant David Green of Greenhouse Communications.
The formal visit began with a dinner with Mike Hambly, chairman of the National Farmers Union (NFU) Combinable Crops Board, who farms in Cornwall, who provided useful and interesting insights. While agricultural producers in the UK and the U.S. face many of the same challenges, the political and social environments in the UK and European Union are very different, with more powerful environmental NGOs and retailers influencing both policies and the market.
The group visited Tithe Farm, a 450 ha. arable crop operation run by Jim Meadows and his son Mark. They saw firsthand winter rapeseed and learned about weed resistance, increasing limitations on pesticides use, and general uncertainties in the market. The group also visited with Camgrain, a storage and logistic farmer cooperative. On the same compound, a rapeseed processing plant to be powered by a woodchip biomass generator was under construction.
The group visited the headquarters of the UK National Farmers Union in Stoneleigh and received briefings from the NFU staff on the rapeseed market, innovation, Brexit and sustainability. There is a high degree of uncertainty of what Brexit will mean to producers, with the added complication that agricultural policy has been devolved to the four parts of the UK (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England). Also, the diversity of the British agricultural sector, with some producers very dependent upon exports to the continent and others less so, complicates the approach to be taken in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.
The following day at the hallowed Farmers Club in London, the group received a number of briefings: Mr. Green provided a briefing on the institutions of the European Union and provided status reports on biotech approvals and pesticide re-registration; Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) – London provided an overview of bilateral trade between the U.S. and the UK and the uncertainties with Brexit and the new administration in the United States; Richard Whitlock, a British agricultural consultant, provided his views on the challenges ahead; and Keith Millar of the UK Food Standards Agency briefed the group on developments within the EU and the UK on animal feed.
This was a very educational trip for all of us. We learned of the similarities between U.K. and Illinois farmers, such as government regulations and challenges such as resistant weeds to control. However, one thing that all of us are in agreement on is how important trade is for everyone, now and in the future.
-ISA chair Daryl Cates
A delegation from the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) visited the Netherlands on January 23 and 24. The purpose of the visit was to get a better understanding of the dynamics influencing the Dutch market for Illinois soybeans and to engage the Dutch industry on issues of importance to the U.S. Soy industry. The group was joined by Eugene Philhower, USSEC Regional Representative – Northern Europe, who organized the two-day visit.
The group included ISA vice chair Lynn Rohrscheib and ISA directors Gary Berg, Jered Hooker, Paul Rasmussen, and Roberta Simpson-Dolbeare, as well as Craig Ratajczyk, ISA CEO and Jayma Appleby, director of industry relations.
The program was designed to gain insights into the Dutch market by briefings along the soy value chain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) office from the U.S Embassy in The Hague provided an overview of the Dutch market, highlighting the importance of the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam as the entry point for U.S. commodities coming into Europe. The Dutch Farmers Organization (LTO) provided a briefing on agricultural policy and the challenges being faced by Dutch producers. Their representative pointed out that the Netherlands is the second largest exporter of agricultural and food products in the world. Nevedi, the Dutch feed industry association, described their work supporting the development of sustainable soy sourcing guidelines for the Dutch and European feed industries.
The group visited the headquarters of Ahold Delhaize, a global retailer (comparable to Food Lion or Stop and Shop in the U.S) and the largest retailer in the Netherlands and Belgium. After visiting a local store (Albert Heijn), they provided a briefing on the organization and their sustainability initiatives. Dutch retailers have committed to 100 percent sustainable soy for feed, mostly relying on Roundtable on Responsible Soy Standard (RTRS) credits to achieve that goal. They were interested in learning more about the U.S. Sustainable Soy Assurance Protocol (SSAP).
On the second morning, the delegation visited an agricultural research farm operated by Wageningen University where they are conducting varietal tests for soybeans, mostly varieties developed in Canada. The researcher admitted that growing soybeans in the Netherlands has its challenges in terms of protein content, length the growing season and overall yield per hectare. In three to five years, they project 10,000-20,000 hectares producing soybeans for human consumption. That afternoon, the group visited a feed mill operated by AgruniekRijnvallei, a Dutch cooperative specializing in custom feed preparation for the Dutch livestock industry.
At the end of the visit, Ms. Rohrscheib said, “The trade mission to the Netherlands was a great opportunity for Illinois soybean producers to be able to engage in fruitful discussions with the buyers, constituents, and governmental organizations who play a major role in the soybean story in the Netherlands and the European Union.” She added that the group learned how Dutch and European farmers are being regulated and how those rules not only affect the farmers and consumers in the European Union but how those regulations affect soybean producers in Illinois. “As producers, we look forward to continuing the discussion with the key players in the European market so we can work together, market our soybeans and continue to provide the highest quality soy. Without these key conversations, we will not be able to understand the foreign markets and effectively sell our soybeans.”
As a part of special series of projects for the U.S. Soy Industry’s 60th Anniversary in Japan, USSEC organized a dialogue with the U.S. Embassy – Tokyo to discuss U.S. Soy Sustainability and women’s empowerment, concentrating on the program focusing on Japanese women in the soy industry and creating preference and differentiating the U.S. Soy Advantage across the entire value chain.
USSEC North Asia Regional Human Utilization (HU) Coordinator and Japan HU Director Masako Masi Tateishi invited Rachel Nelson, U.S. Embassy Tokyo Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) Director, to an interview-style meeting, facilitated by the Japanese business and economics newspaper Nikkei, which covered the story in its popular section, “Marunouchi Career Academy” during its evening January 30 issue. The section organizes various enlightenment activities such as promotional events, seminars, and dialogues in Japan to connect business professionals and companies for the purpose of career empowerment.
The U.S. Soy dialogue included efforts made through cooperation between the Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) Tokyo and USSEC, plus the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Women in Agriculture program to introduce how the U.S. agriculture industry enhances and supports women’s careers in agricultural industries. USSEC also provided an assessment of the current status of the Japanese soybean industry as it pertains to women.
Ms. Nelson and Ms. Tateishi were nominated to serve on the judges’ panel for the national natto competition to be held in Kyoto, Japan on February 24. USSEC will continue to collaborate with FAS Tokyo on the topic of sustainability in the U.S. and Japanese soybean industries.
USSEC’s partnership activities with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) paid off this year when Korea’s largest trade organization of food-grade soybean end-users announced they would require the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Protocol (SSAP) certificate. In its March 2016 tender announcement for 7,651 metric tons (MT) of U.S. non-GMO identity preserved soybeans, the Korea Federation of Tofu Cooperatives (KFTC) added the certificates to the list of documents suppliers must provide.
Wisconsin-headquartered DeLong Company, as well as Knewtson Soy Products in Minnesota, both USSEC members, are two of the 45 companies spanning 17 states that are pre-registered to use SSAP certificates.
DeLong’s Brandon Bickham, a USSEC director, says, “We are using the SSAP in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam as a marketing tool from our side and at our customers’ request in some instances.”
“The large customers seem to want everything that is available to them for advertising and food safety image,” says Wayne Knewtson, president of Knewtson Soy Products.
Launched in 2013, the SSAP allows U.S. exporters to efficiently and cost-effectively communicate the sustainability of U.S. Soy to buyers worldwide. In January 2016, soy exports certified through the SSAP hit a record two million metric tons in the 2015/16 marketing year. The SSAP provides U.S. Soy exporters with proof of, among other sustainability-related criteria, reductions in energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil erosion of soybeans produced in the United States.
USSEC’s Market Access Program (MAP) – funded efforts include bringing a team of Korean soybean crushing and feed mill buyers to the United States to learn about the superior quality of U.S. soybeans as well as their sustainability. With USDA Foreign Market Development (FMD) funds, USSEC staff also conducts seminars and other trade servicing activities in North Asia and other locations where they highlight the sustainability of U.S. Soy.
USSEC attended a series of events and meetings in Europe from October 16-20.
USSEC consultant David Green of the U.S. Sustainability Alliance and USSEC Project Manager – Market Access/FTO Katie Williams attended SIAL Paris (a major international food exhibition) and the U.N’s Committee on World Food Security event in Rome, in addition to conducting one-on-one meetings in Brussels, Belgium and Dordrecht, Netherlands.
“During SIAL Paris and our meetings in Brussels and Rome, David and I were able to have face to face meetings with contacts from various Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) offices, retailers, food processors, and others,” stated Ms. Williams. “During these conversations, we were able to discern that European retailers are extremely interested in sustainability and recognize the potential for collaboration.”
Changing mindsets takes time. The successes of the Global Broad-based Initiative (GBI) program over the past two years are steps in the right direction, says Ms. Williams. Ongoing dialogue and communication with contacts made to date and with new stakeholders was appreciated by EU stakeholders. This base of contacts will be leveraged and built on to further improve the understanding and appreciation of the reality of sustainability and conservation in the U.S. The sustainability and conservation production processes used in U.S. agriculture, forestry, and fishery products are viewed positively by European audiences following outreach, education and information exchange on missions such as the above.
USSEC’s participation helps communicate to European audiences that U.S. agriculture and industry is sustainable and that many cooperators participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation schemes. Also, the fact that some 95 percent of farms in the U.S. are family farms and that the U.S. has been enacting conservation laws and policies for more than 100 years were two points which were both new and enlightening to the European audience.
At the recent Consumer Goods Forum’s Sustainable Retail Summit in Paris, USSEC sponsored a special breakout session focused on sustainable U.S. Soy.
Brent Babb, USSEC Regional Director – EU/MENA opened the session by providing an overview of USSEC and the history and range of conservation efforts undertaken by U.S. producers. Mr. Babb described the four pillars of the U.S. Sustainable Soy Assurance Protocol (SSAP) – biodiversity and high carbon stock, production practices, health and welfare, and continuous improvement – while noting that to date, certificates have been issued for almost six million tons of U.S. Soy exports.
United Soybean Board (USB) director Nancy Kavazanjian spoke about the conservation efforts on her fourth generation family farm in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Ms. Kavazanjian noted that conservation measures, such as no-till and cover crops, reduce soil erosion and improve soil quality, demonstrating her family’s commitment to continuous improvement, a key aspect of sustainable production.
Dr. Marty Matlock of the University of Arkansas spoke about the metrics and indicators collected and used to measure advancements toward the agreed upon sustainability goals for U.S. soybean producers. Dr. Matlock elaborated on the continuous improvement efforts and noted the commitment by U.S. Soy producers to continue their sustainability drive as measured by the five key indicators of land use, water and energy use, soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions.
The conference brought together a wide range of businesses along the food value chain, including CEOs from major European retailers. The USSEC delegation engaged with the conference participants and explained how the SSAP relates to the Consumer Goods Forum’s sustainable soy sourcing guidelines and USSEC’s efforts to promote and inform key European contacts on the SSAP.
The U.S. Sustainability Alliance (USSA) was the featured booth at SIAL Canada in April when U.S. Ambassador Bruce Hayman cut the ribbon to officially open the USA Pavilion in Montreal.
With more than 15,000 visitors and 850 exhibitors, SIAL Montreal is a major international food exhibition. In 2016, the United States was selected as the country of honor, and so the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Ottawa requested that USSA participate to highlight the importance of sustainability and conservation programs for U.S. farmers, foresters and fisheries. The specially designed USSA booth was in a prime location and featured information and product displays of all the FAS cooperator alliance members, including USSEC.
USSEC’s participation was a part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) FAS Global Broad-based Initiative (GBI) on sustainability. USSEC acts as the lead in a sustainability alliance consisting of nineteen USDA cooperators representing agriculture, forestry and fisheries through the U.S. Sustainability Alliance (USSA).
The eye-catching pop-up posters included the messages “We did not inherit the land from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children” and “If we take care of the earth, the earth will take care of us,” which attracted a lot of attention and compliments for their appeal and message impact. A TV monitor at the booth featured the USSA infographic of a century of U.S. legislation, plus rolling videos featured soy, rice and wheat producers’ stories.
The two USSA representatives were busy throughout the three-day event and handled more than 50 visitor inquiries, often explaining at length the conservation and sustainability efforts of U.S. farming, forestry and fisheries. Notably, several educators asked permission to use the USSA web site in their school districts. The USSA also held a panel discussion outlining the work of the USSA and a case study on sustainable production by the Almond Board of California. The success of the USSA presence was confirmed by an invitation from the SIAL global organizers to participate in a live TV program on sustainability at SIAL Paris in October. This event, held every two years since 1964, attracts more than 6,000 exhibitors and nearly 200,000 visitors and is described as the global food marketplace.
Following SIAL Montreal, USSA surveyed all FAS cooperators on sustainability issues; the results clearly showed that an overwhelming majority of organizations (87 percent) believe that demonstrating sustainable production can create competitive market advantages for their products.
The survey also prompted a number of cooperators to join the alliance including American Peanut Council; National Renderers Association; Dry Bean Council; U.S. Hide, Skin & Leather Association; and Softwood Export Council. This brings the number of USSA cooperator members to 19 – up from the original 9 members.
USSEC conducted a series of activities in China to promote the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) from June 21-24. United Soybean Board (USB) director April Hemmes, a soybean farmer from Iowa, together with Dave White, former chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Marty Matlock, professor at Arkansas University and Jaime Picarra, Secretary General of Portugal Feed Industry Association, traveled to China.
The delegation’s first stop was in Shanghai where USSEC conducted meetings with two key customers, Yihai Kerry Group, the largest crushing group in China, and Shanghai Bright Liangyou Group, a local state-owned crushing and refining group, to encourage them to participate in the SSAP certification program for their U.S. purchases. Both customers recognized the sustainability of U.S. soybean production and obtained SSAP certificates for U.S. soybean shipments. USSEC’s next effort will be to encourage customers to label their products with the “Sustainable U.S. Soy” logo.
USSEC also staged a workshop in Shanghai for about 20 regional feedmillers to introduce the U.S. SSAP system to downstream customers so that they are aware of the availability of such certificates, which could be of great value to their marketing strategy.
In Beijing, USSEC conducted a press conference for 12 mainstream media to introduce them to the SSAP. Participating reporters showed special interest in the legal system and the third party auditing practice.
As the last activity in the series of SSAP promotions, USSEC collaborated with the China Chamber of Commerce for the Import & Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce & Animal By-products (CFNA) to organize the U.S. – China Sustainable Soybean Trade on June 24 for 75 participants, including government agencies from the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) and the Ministry of Science & Technology (MOST); officials from industry associations such as China National Vegetable Oil Association (CNVOA), China Animal Agriculture Association (CAAA); China Feed Industry Association (CFIA), China National Food Industry Association (CNFIA), and China Soybean Industry Association (CSIA); researchers from the China Academy of Sciences (CAS) and China Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS); managers from seed companies such as Monsanto, Pioneer and Bayer; and executives from soybean importers and exporters such as COFCO, Chinatex, Jiusan, Yuanchen, Agrex and Cargill. Two Chinese speakers joined other speakers in presenting topics on the importance of sustainable soybean trade to China’s food security and food safety, the core value of sustainability to corporate social responsibility, the European Feed Manufacturers’ Association’s (FEFAC) business practice benchmarking SSAP in sourcing soy, the USDA’s long term efforts in conservation, continuous improvement by moving key performance indicators (KPIs), and U.S. growers’ production practices in conservation. Many participants made positive comments on the sustainability certification and several major soybean buyers told USSEC that they are going to request SSAP certificate on every shipment from the U.S.
Dave Cottrel, Director of U.S. Agricultural Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy, together with Bian Zhenhu, President of CFNA and Ms. Hemmes opened the seminar in Beijing while Katie Woody, Deputy Director of ATO Shanghai opened the workshop in Shanghai.
USSEC hosted a sustainability seminar, “New Call on the Food Supply and Demand Chain,” in Seoul, South Korea on June 8, targeting the crushing, soy food and feed industries. The objective of the seminar was to highlight what sustainability is, why sustainability matters and will matter to the food security and food safety of Korea, and how sustainability is being pursued within the global food supply chain. More than 40 people attended the seminar from the targeted industries, along with representatives from two newspapers specializing in agriculture and food.
Topics discussed included “Paris Weather Accord and its Ramifications on the Korean Food and Feed Industry,” “Background of the Call for Sustainability and Response from the Supply Chain,” and “Definition & Application of Sustainability from the Perspective of Agriculture.” Sajo Haepyo Corp. and Dr. Chung’s Food Co., Ltd. shared their understanding and application of sustainability in their businesses.
After the seminar, the two attending newspapers, Agriculture, Fisheries & Livestock News and the Food & Beverage News, published articles about the seminar and the resulting discussions on sustainability. The Agriculture, Fisheries & Livestock News will also publish a five series of articles on sustainability discussed at the seminar.
The U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) was positively benchmarked against the European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation’s (FEFAC) Soy Sourcing Guidelines through the independent International Trade Centre (ITC) customized benchmark tool on March 8, 2016.
“This is yet another step in the right direction for the U.S. Soy industry. The SSAP is a commitment to the future by U.S. soybean farmers. Because sustainability’s fundamental principle is continuous improvement, the SSAP is constantly evolving,” said USSEC chairman Laura Foell. “We look forward to continuing to supply the EU and countries around the world with healthy, sustainable soybeans from U.S. farmers.”
FEFAC’s soy sourcing guidelines seek to facilitate mainstream market supply for soy, which is produced in accordance with baseline environmental and social criteria. The independent ITC benchmarking provides transparency to interested EU feed associations and member companies who wish to make further progress towards the mainstream market transition for the supply of sustainably produced soy to the EU feed sector.
According to USSEC Regional Manager – EU/MENA Brent Babb, the approval designation was done by an independent party international trade center, which is part of the World Trade Organization (WTO). USSEC provided additional information about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) audit system and had extensive training performed by their staff.
Angela Booth, chairperson of the FEFAC Sustainability Committee stated, “The continued benchmarking applications by responsible soy programme owners shows the growing acceptance by soy value chain partners of the FEFAC Soy Sourcing Guidelines. USSEC has recognised the value of qualifying with the EU feed industry’s demands and aligned their criteria accordingly.”
USSEC, together with members of the U.S. Soy family, developed the SSAP in 2013. The protocol helps to ensure that U.S. Soy is produced following a strong set of conservation regulations combined with wide adoption of best management practices by a majority of U.S. farmers. The methodologies for measuring sustainable performance are thorough and transparent, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. The SSAP verifies that U.S. Soy is sustainably produced and aims to meet growing consumer demand for environmentally, socially and economically produced commodities. The protocol covers four key components including sound environmental objectives, social responsibility, conservation focused management practices and continuous improvement.
This crop year, over 3 million metric tons, equivalent to 110.22 million bushels, of U.S. Soy have been exported and certified under the SSAP program.
“The big advantage the U.S. has in sustainability is its strong conservation system, which has continuously improved since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. This enables U.S. producers to produce sustainable agriculture in large volumes,” said Mr. Babb. “No other country has an agriculture conservation system as large and impactful as the United States.”
FEFAC was founded in 1959 and represents 25 national associations in 24 EU member states as well as associations in Switzerland, Turkey, Serbia, Russia and Norway with observer/associate member status. Sales of the European compound feed industry are estimated at € 50 billion annually.
The ITC was formed in 1946 by a joint mandate between the WTO and the United Nations (UN). ITC created a Standards Map process, which provides comprehensive, verified and transparent information on voluntary sustainability standards and other similar initiatives. The main objective of the program is to strengthen the capacity of producers, exporters, policymakers and buyers, to participate in more sustainable production and trade.
The USSEC website recently added a series of sustainability briefs to its resources section.
The two page briefs provide information about the sustainable practices that U.S. soybean farmers are already using and give more detail on the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP).
USSEC CEO Jim Sutter was interviewed by Brownfield Ag News on January 20 about U.S. Soy’s record sustainable soy exports.
On January 14, USSEC announced that soy exports certified through the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) hit a record two million metric tons in the 2015/16 marketing year.
During the discussion with Brownfield, Mr. Sutter talked about the importance of the SSAP to U.S. Soy exports and the instrumental role that U.S. farmers play in meeting sustainability and conservation requirements.
Listen to the interview here.
Last week, USSEC announced that soy exports certified through the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) have hit a record two million metric tons in the 2015/16 marketing year.
USSEC chairman Laura Foell stated, “This is an exciting milestone for the U.S. Soy industry. It’s important to our end users to know where their soybeans are coming from and that they were raised in a healthy, sustainable manner. We’re very happy that the SSAP allows us to show them that.”
The SSAP was developed by USSEC in conjunction with other members of the U.S. Soy family including the American Soybean Association (ASA), United Soybean Board (USB), and Qualified State Soybean Boards (QSSBs), along with industry partners North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA) and National Oilseed Processors Association (NOPA). This multi-year process involved numerous revisions as input and suggestions were received from U.S. Soy customers and other stakeholders around the world.
The SSAP allows U.S. exporters to efficiently and cost-effectively communicate the sustainability of U.S. Soy and provide assurance to buyers worldwide with a simple certification tool. Soy Export Sustainability, LLC, provides certificates to exporters based on an aggregate system representing nationwide soybean production.
The SSAP reiterates the U.S. Soy industry’s commitment to providing customers with superior service after the sale, a supply system second to none, and continued access to cutting edge soy products. The SSAP’s official sustainability certification for U.S. Soy provides exporters with verification that the soy products they sell on the world market are raised in a sustainable manner, by providing proof of reductions in energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and soil erosion of soybeans produced in the United States.