soybean field

U.S. Soy Grower Leaders Share Perspective from Farmer-to-Farmer Biotech Mission to EU

Three U.S. Soy grower leaders took part in a farmer-to-farmer biotech mission to Europe in late March.  United Soybean Board (USB) director Woody Green of South Carolina; American Soybean Association (ASA) director Kevin Scott of South Dakota; and USB director Doug Winter of Illinois were escorted by USSEC Senior Technical Consultant David Green.
The trip was reciprocal to the October 2014 visit by EU farmers to Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Iowa and consisted of two parts:  farm visits and biotech policy meetings.  The delegates visited farms in France, the United Kingdom and Ireland and participated in biotech meetings in Paris, Brussels, London and Dublin.
The three grower leaders shared their thoughts and perspectives about how U.S. Soy and biotechnology are perceived in the EU.

This Normandy farm house was built in 1765.
This Normandy farm house was built in 1765.

According to Mr. Scott, the visits to Normandy farms contained many “ah-ha” moments as the farmers discovered that they use many of the same methods.  He says that despite the similarities, “They’re dealing with the same and even tougher regulations than U.S. farmers deal with.”
He noted at one farm that the farmer was growing a mix of cereal and pulse crops but didn’t see any soybeans in the fields.  Even though there were no soybeans growing, there were piles of soybean meal that was being mixed into livestock feed.  Although French farmers are not permitted to grow GMO soybeans, they are not regulated in feed.
Normandy farmers are primarily dairy and livestock rather than grain or cereal producers, but as Mr. Scott points out, “They will still have quite a need for protein.”
Mr. W. Green adds, “While one hears about the farming environment in Europe, it is much more immediate to actually walk on someone's farm and begin to understand how the regulatory and restrictive structure there impacts them.”
He continues, “Crop yields are impressive, but both inputs and production are handled in smaller increments than U.S. farmers are accustomed to.  The EU farmers that we visited with were supportive of biotech crops, and annoyed that they could be imported, yet not grown.  They realize that they are losing competitiveness because of the EU stance, and in addition, they are losing quite a number of chemicals that they currently use due to EU policy.”
“We think we have a lot of restrictions in the farm sector, but they have many more,” says Mr. Winter.  “There is a great opportunity for U.S. Soy in the EU, even GMO crops.  These farmers don’t have a problem with importing it and using it for feed but are not able to grow it themselves.”
The U.S. team also took note of the fact that many EU farmers are no longer handing down their family farms.
Mr. Scott says, “There aren’t any family members who want to come back [to the farm] and take over.  In Ireland, we met a farmer with seven kids but farming is just that difficult there with the amount of work due to regulations.”

English farm visit
English farm visit

“Despite the value of agriculture - both culturally and economically - to the countries that we visited, none of the four farms had a new generation in place to continue the operations.  All of the farmers had multiple sons and daughters, but the farmers said that their children could make more income elsewhere with less work.  I don't know if that's the situation overall, but I find it ominous and very disturbing for the future of European agriculture,” added Mr. W. Green.
The farmers also found common ground in technology.
Mr. Scott recalled an exchange he had with an Irish farmer about GPS, tracked combines and tramlines.  “He found out I was using a drone and was very excited,” he said.
Similarly, Mr. Winter was impressed with the adoption of technologies such as sprayers, nutrient application technology and no till.  “They’re right up with the U.S. with equipment technology and nutrient and agronomy knowledge.”
In the biotech policy meetings, the team met and briefed EU officials and stakeholders in each region, particularly in Brussels, on the negative consequences to the free-flow of trade through excessive delays in approving crops enhanced through biotechnology.

Kevin Scott presents at the TTIP forum

Mr. Scott took part in a panel discussion on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) at a French agricultural think-tank in Paris with 110 participants.
“Safety is critical,” he told them.  “Our family is from here, seven or eight generations back.”  He stressed that U.S. farmers and their families eat the same products that are exported.  “We’re just feeding the family.  We wouldn’t do anything to be hurtful to our family.”
Mr. D. Green says, “It appears that the tipping point on biotech has been reached, so we took a more assertive line with officials in Brussels on the need to follow the legal approval requirements and timelines, and to press home that using biotech allows more sustainable production.”
He continues, “It was important to communicate the message that U.S. Soy growers are looking to the next range of new biotech products.  The need to commercialize will be considered in line with overseas approvals unless that market has a dysfunctional regulatory system which would lead growers to consider seriously if their adoption should be compromised because of inadequate or politically motivated approvals systems in an overseas market.”
In all meetings, the team communicated the potential damage to trade and Europe’s livestock and poultry sectors if the EU fails to observe its own approval timelines for biotech events; secured an understanding from stakeholders and officials of the need for timely biotech approvals in the EU; communicated core messages of biotechnology adoption and acceptance in the U.S. and other countries around the world; communicated the benefits in terms of sustainability of U.S. Soy; and detailed the Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol.
Mr. W. Green says that it’s important for EU stakeholders to know more about U.S. Soy.  “The European concept of American farms is not accurate, and U.S. soybeans are grown more sustainably than we get credit for.”
The delegates felt that the mix of farm visits and policy meetings was very effective as they allowed the USSEC team to hear directly from farmers what they face in dealing with EU policy issues affecting farming and adoption of innovation.
Mr. Winter concludes, “It was a great trip, a great educational experience from the standpoint of how similar farmers are worldwide.  We all hit the same walls in farming.”