When it comes to fostering the relationships that build markets for American agricultural products, the ag industry has some best friends.
Those best friends are the farmers who grow the crops and who are willing to give generously of their time and resources to promote the crops they grow. They are people like Derek Haigwood, a third-generation Arkansas farmer and director on the United Soybean Board and member of the U.S. Soybean Export Council — organizations formed for the express purpose of building new markets and assuring profits for U.S. growers.
The goal of the United Soybean Board, which administers the money generated by the checkoff, is to create a preference for U.S. soy among customers who could buy their soy products from anywhere in the world. Its members travel the world to talk up U.S. soybeans and explain why they have higher value than the beans grown in other parts of the world.
Haigwood said their case is helped by the fact that there is scientific evidence that shows that soybeans grown in the U.S. do have higher quality, and therefore higher value, than soybeans grown elsewhere.
"It has to do with climate and soils, as well as management and varieties," Haigwood said.
Checkoff dollars also fund research to produce specialty varieties, such as beans that yield high-oleic oils, and the research that finds more and more uses for soybeans and soybean oil, such as the foam used in the seats of Ford vehicles.
"We travel to the countries that are major buyers of U.S. soybeans, like China, and we talk about the intrinsic values such as amino acid profiles and higher digestibility in an effort to build up that preference for buying U.S. beans," he said.
"As farmers, we make the case directly to our customers around the world. We spend time in China and the EU, which are big, big importers of U.S. soy," Haigwood said. "We also stress the sustainability of our soy and our country's farmers. We have the Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol, which provides a certificate that we can show to customers and potential customers."
Aim is customer understanding
Haigwood said he works to make customers for soy understand his deep pride in the history of his land and a generational commitment to making it better.
"I'm on a turn row right now and looking at conservation practices that were put into place by my grandfather to make this farm better than it was when he started it," he said during an interview from the cab of his tractor while planting soybeans in early April. "My father has added to that. On my right is a riparian filter in CRP [Conservation Reserve Program] that has been there for 26 years. It filters any runoff before it reaches the creek. For my part, I plant cover crops in the winter to keep the soil covered and the soil alive and healthy," he said.
He takes that passion with him when he travels to other countries to talk about U.S. soy, he said.
"When I am in the EU, I show them pictures of family — my kids and my brother's kids — standing out in those soybean fields, touching the leaves and the blooms. I explain to them that these are GMO beans, and they don't hurt anyone. I show them our family sitting at a dinner table, eating meat from animals fed GMO soy," he said. "I make them understand that we are not trying to get rid of it by sending it overseas; that we have extremely productive land, and we can grow more than our people need and provide food to people who don't have our resources."
Haigwood said he and other farmer leaders in USB make sacrifices of their time and money to serve the interests of their industry but he considers those sacrifices an investment in the future of the farm and the way of life that he loves.
"I have inherited this land from the blood, sweat and tears of my grandfather and my father and my uncles. I have two sons and if they choose to farm, the land they inherit will be better than it was when I inherited it," he said. "This land puts food on my table and my family's tables. It's not just sales to us, it's life."
He said he also tries to spread the word by allowing for media crews to come to the farm and take pictures and videos of this family at work and by talking to the press about his farm and his belief in U.S. soy.
See a YouTube video of Haigwood, talking about the importance of being a good steward of the land.
Leadership is family tradition
Stepping up to take a leadership role in community and in agriculture is a family tradition for the Haigwood family of Jackson County, Ark.
While Derek Haigwood has chosen to promote the family farm's role in soy production, he's following an example set by his father, who has served on the Arkansas state promotion board and as a director for Riceland Foods.
"More than 50% of the U.S. rice crop is produced in Arkansas. My dad has been actively involved in promoting rice and trying the co-op's dollars through Riceland to make sure we have good quality infrastructure," he said.
"He always encouraged me to be involved and led by example with his own involvement. He has been on the school board for at least 20 years and has served as president of the school board. He doesn't let anything go by the wayside. He taught me that there is no one better able to manage checkoff dollars than someone who believes in the industry."
Haigwood said he sees himself as a steward of his family's and his neighbors' money when he makes decisions about how checkoff dollars are spent.
"I take pride in doing my level best to spend their money wisely, and I want to leave my mark on the industry just like my grandfather and my father."