In late September, USSEC – European Union (EU) organized a “Sustainable Soy” visit to the United States for contacts from the European feed industry. Participants came from the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. The trip focused on the key elements of the U.S. Sustainable Soy Assurance Protocol (SSAP), particularly the conservation and compliance requirements, and aimed to demonstrate the principles of sustainable soy production in the United States.
Starting in Washington D.C, both the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) provided briefings on their activities and programs and their impact on sustainable agricultural production in the United States. NRCS’s long history of conservation practices and its compliance systems and NASS’s data collection and dissemination both contribute critical elements to the SSAP. The American Soybean Association, the North American Export Grain Association, the National Grain and Feed Association, the Field to Market Alliance, and the American Feed Industry Association all provided detailed briefings on their programs.
State level NRCS offices organized visits to the farms of Mike and Mary Brown in Hartley, Delaware and Mark Eck in Henderson, Maryland where participants saw firsthand conservation practices and activities that improved wildlife habitats, soil erosion and water quality. The group visited historic Annapolis, Maryland before catching a late night flight to Des Moines, Iowa.
In Iowa, State NRCS representatives described their new Resource Stewardship Evaluation (RSE) program, a tool which strengthens and modernizes conservation planning by evaluating current management and conservation activities in the five critical areas of soil management, water quality and quantity, air quality and wildlife habitat, thereby helping producers better identify their conservation goals.
Later, the group visited Iowa State University (ISU) in Ames and received briefings on cutting edge research on water quality activities aimed at reducing nutrient runoff. The group also took a walking art tour of the ISU campus with the highlight being the Grant Wood (“American Gothic”) murals in the university’s library.
The next day was organized in close cooperation with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and started with briefings by their environment staff on the range of their conservation related activities with additional briefing on their research and community outreach efforts. The Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance provided a briefing on their activities to improve water quality and reduce nutrient runoff. The group then visited the farm of Lee Tesdell in Lincoln, Iowa where a number of conservation practices were demonstrated, including a bioreactor used to reduce nitrate levels in runoff water. The group then visited the farm of Rick Kimberley where the highlight was watching the soybean harvest begin. At both farms, the group engaged with the producers, asking questions on various aspects of the operations and gaining critical insights into soybean production, sustainability, conservation measures, the global market situation and current prices and prospects.
The final visit was to the ADM soybean crushing facility in Des Moines. The facility partners with Unilever and Field to Market Alliance in producing soybean oil for a famous brand of mayonnaise. AMD described the process of crushing and refining and their engagement with the 700 local farmers who sustainably produce soybeans for the Field to Market project.
After a busy week, the group provided their initial feedback and impressions, discussed the role of GM soybeans in sustainability, and brainstormed on the next steps in promoting the SSAP and sustainable U.S. Soy to the European market. All participants agreed that, like U.S. farms, no two markets are alike, and USSEC’s promotion and engagement efforts must be tailored to the specific conditions and requirements of each market. Undoubtedly, the participants gained insights into the diversity and richness of U.S. farming, a better understanding of the challenges ahead, and assurances of U.S. producers’ commitment to sustainability and to supplying sustainably produced soybeans to global markets.