Since 1991, the soy checkoff has been focused on bringing value back to farmers and fulfilling the checkoff’s mission of creating value for U.S. soybean farmers by investing in research, education and promotion of U.S. Soy. The 77 farmer-leaders of the soy checkoff collaborate with one another to implement a strategic plan geared toward achieving the checkoff’s mission.
With the new strategic plan that was implemented in 2022, the checkoff focuses efforts among three specific areas, also known as priority areas, to create the most value and positive impact for every soybean farmer while continuing to increase return on investment for all U.S. soybean farmers. The soy checkoff’s three priority areas are Infrastructure & Connectivity, Health & Nutrition, and Innovation & Technology — but do you often wonder what these areas mean and how they apply to you? If your answer is yes, then you’re in luck!
The Infrastructure & Connectivity priority area invests in programs that strengthen the road, rail, river and broadband systems that bring U.S. soybeans to market — this is work that has been showing a clear return on investment. For example, the decade-long Lower Mississippi Dredging initiative was a $2 million investment in planning, analysis and design that added $461 million in value for U.S. soybeans. We recently sat down with Belinda Burrier, checkoff farmer-leader from Union Bridge, Maryland, and Infrastructure & Connectivity Priority Area coordinator, to share her insight on how the checkoff makes investments in infrastructure and connectivity that ultimately drive value back to the farmer.
Burrier had no background in agriculture before she married her farmer husband, Dave. In the 20 years since their wedding, the couple’s 900-acre farm has served as her classroom. Burrier said she had no clue what she was getting into 20 years ago, but she wouldn’t change it for the world.
Give us insight about you, your farm and how infrastructure plays a role in your farm.
We farm in Frederick County, Maryland, with our nephew. Our operation has a little over 900 acres growing corn, wheat, soybeans and hay. Farmers depend on our nation’s infrastructure, including broadband access, to successfully bring our beans to market. While my family is just an hour north of Washington, D.C., we still have connectivity challenges.
I’m also a member of the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC). The checkoff collaborates with the STC on investments that improve our roads, rails and rivers. This partnership allows us to maximize our research efforts, understanding collectively where we need to focus our work. A great example of this partnership is the decade-long investment of dredging the Mississippi River bottom for improved shipping.
What are some examples of investments and in-progress work within this priority area?
We’re on the homestretch for the Mississippi River dredging investment, and that has brought much value to not only soybean farmers, but all farmers across the United States because commodities are able to move up and down the river more efficiently. Our $2 million research investment turned into savings of 13 cents a bushel on freight.
The Mississippi River is one of our main modes of transportation in agriculture, and it also keeps us competitive in a global market, so enhancements are essential to farmers. For any farmer who ships up or down the river, the amount of products shipped contributes to U.S. Soy’s competitiveness for soybeans, inputs and other products. Transportation along the Mississippi River also keeps us reliable as an industry.
Five additional feet may not sound like much, but it will have a large effect on the amount of commodities that are shipped up and down the river.
What infrastructure and connectivity investments are you excited about?
Having a reliable and efficient transportation system is one of U.S. Soy’s biggest advantages over our competitors, and this is what truly excites me about this priority area. There are many infrastructure investments that are currently underway that are all working to benefit U.S. soybean farmers.
Not only do we have the Mississippi River dredging, but the checkoff also invested into the modernization of Lock & Dam #25, one of the many locks and dams critical for efficient barge traffic that desperately need updating. Unfortunately, the current system is deteriorating, putting the reliability and predictability of delivering soy to our global customers at risk. The soy checkoff funded pre-engineering and design research work which ultimately led to a $732 million commitment from the Army Corps of Engineers to complete the design and construction.
How are these investments within infrastructure and connectivity benefiting soybean farmers?
Investing in infrastructure is critical to ensure U.S. soybean farmers can continue to meet growing global demand for soybeans. The soybeans we’re shipping maintain their high quality because we can get that transportation in a timely manner, and that benefits all of us.
The lower Mississippi dredging investment, Lock and Dam #25 and Port of Grays Harbor are all ongoing investments that will support U.S. soybean farmers. Farmers everywhere rely heavily on the Mississippi River. The river connects the Midwestern growing regions to the global market, working as an important waterway for U.S. Soy transportation as well as various other commodities.
Each of these investments ensure we are continuing to meet global demand and provide predictability of delivery, which is a key competitive advantage.
Regarding connectivity, rural broadband is a big challenge for farmers. Having technology is one thing, but being able to use it is another. Investing in this area is important because farmers rely on GPS, satellites and other equipment to farm sustainably. We need reliable broadband in order to monitor and view data. The success of our farms depends on it.
On many farms, technology plays such a vital role in every aspect of the operation. On-farm technology advancements now allow farmers to grow more food on less land and use pinpoint accuracy when applying fertilizer, water and pesticides.
Looking ahead, what can we see from the soy checkoff regarding infrastructure and connectivity?
The checkoff’s investment process allows all 77 farmer-leaders to provide input on the types of investments that we’re interested in working on so that they benefit all U.S. soybean farmers in all regions.
Each of us listens to farmers in our area and works to truly understand their collective needs.
Through collaboration, discussion and teamwork, we have developed some great partnerships. And just like these examples I have mentioned, I can see a lot of similar partnerships on the horizon. It is such an exciting time to be a U.S. soybean farmer.
Dedicated farmer-leaders such as Belinda Burrier help pave the way for investments among each of the checkoff’s priority areas to ensure farmers like you are supported and successful.