Seeing is believing. That’s why USB is giving a group of U.S. soybean farmers an inside look at the customers, facilities and opportunities that their checkoff dollars make possible. During this mission, Aug. 5-16, to Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore, farmers will meet with customers and visit ports, crush facilities and aquaculture farms. Each day, a farmer will provide a boots-on-the-ground look at how checkoff investments are opening up the world to U.S. soybean farmers. These are their stories from the field.
See for Yourself, Day 9
Key See for Yourself Takeaways
Kean Schnieber, Kentucky Soybean Farmer
August 17, 2023
Hello! I’m Kean Schnieber, a soybean farmer from Central Kentucky. I have the privilege of wrapping up this See for Yourself blog. Many of my fellow farmers have called this journey “eye-opening,” and I completely agree. Prior to this trip, I wasn’t too familiar with what the checkoff does and how exactly it works. This mission has helped me to better understand the role of the United Soybean Board. After visiting Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore, I see how partnerships with CAST, WISHH, the U.S. Meat Export Federation and the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council all tie back into soybeans and helping farmers’ bottom lines. I’ve especially come to recognize the important role that aquaculture plays in Cambodia’s developing soybean market. Soybean meal in fish feed is a critical component in U.S. Soy markets in all the countries we visited. As for the See for Yourself program, my advice is to go into it with an open mind (which can apply to any visit with international customers, whether it be through a commodity board, Farm Bureau or your state or national soy checkoff). Viewing market progression from developing to mature was incredibly helpful in every way, especially learning about the role of the soy checkoff in developing and maintaining these marketplaces. And it was amazing to learn more about the work that brings value back to the 515,000 soybean farmers across the United States.
See for Yourself, Day 8 – Part 2
The Checkoff’s Three Phases of Market Implementation
Steve Reinhard, United Soybean Board
August 16, 2023
Hello everyone! My name is Steve Reinhard and I serve as the current vice chair for the United Soybean Board. I’m a soybean farmer from Bucyrus, Ohio, and I am honored to be taking part in the See for Yourself mission. On the tour’s last day, we visited BluCurrent Aqua Farm. Sourcing sustainable seafood is becoming a bigger and bigger food security issue in Southeast Asia, and fish farming offers a solution to that problem. BluCurrent’s new aquafarm design is located right on the water. They currently have six huge tanks that are built into what I’d refer to as a “barge,” which can recirculate and clean the water. Technology allows employees to view fish size, so they can more accurately determine harvesting age. There’s a roof over the tanks and solar panels on the barge. And here’s a neat fact: 60% of their farm’s electricity comes from the solar panels, which provide a self-sufficient and more reliable source of power. The company’s goal is to eventually build ten floating barges – they’ve already leased enough area on the bay, where the aquafarm is located, so they can continue to develop their system. Right now, they’re on the fourth generation of programs at this floating fish farm.
All of the markets we’ve visited during our overseas experience – Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore – have been supported and developed over time by the national and state checkoffs. Looking back at our trip – in Cambodia, WISHH started its program there to increase food security and identify trade potential, which they’ve accomplished by getting soy protein into that market using in-pond raceway systems for aquaculture species (that’s a very different system than what we saw in Singapore). We’re hopeful that increased protein makes the country more sustainable and, eventually, more productive. As protein production increases, U.S. Soy looks to export meal, whole beans, oil and also value-added products such as poultry and pork to Cambodia in the future. Vietnam is an up-and-coming market. There, I enjoyed learning more about the collaboration between Bunge and Wilmar and seeing soybeans crushed and loaded onto barges to be shipped to Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. And then seeing Ichiban’s use of the Sustainable U.S. Soy label was really neat – the label shows everyone who buys their soy milk and tofu that it’s made with sustainable U.S. soybeans. It’s a really great marketing expansion for their company. And here in Singapore, visiting ADM and Bunge was so interesting because we got to see first-hand how their buyers are importing meal and distributing it to various locations in and around Singapore. We spoke with them about the sustainability of our soybeans, and how that plays into markets and consumer demand. I want to end by reiterating what a beneficial trip this has been for soybean growers (who are non-board members) to see how their checkoff dollars are being invested in three phases of market implementation. I think they are really excited – I know I am!
See for Yourself, Day 8 – Part 1
Making Better Decisions with Checkoff Dollars
Cindy Pulskamp, United Soybean Board
August 16, 2023
Hello, my name is Cindy Pulskamp, and I am a USB director from Hillsboro, North Dakota. As the See for Yourself tour begins to wind down here in Singapore, several of us have noticed and better understand what this mature market looks like for U.S. Soy. For me, experiencing the marketplace here has helped me to grasp the impact of our work with partner organizations like the U.S. Soybean Export Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Before seeing this up close and in person, truly understanding these international investments is sometimes hard to piece together. As a current director, See for Yourself helps us make more strategic decisions in interacting with these partners and their boots-on-the-ground teams. Visiting three vastly different markets (Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore) and seeing firsthand how USB makes a difference through our checkoff dollars has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Once our soybeans leave our farm, we sometimes lose track of where they go. It’s really, really important for U.S. farmers to understand all of the people, processes and connections we’re making that are involved in ensuring that our products drive demand. If you ever have the opportunity to see that for yourself through USB, your state soybean board, Farm Bureau or other commodity group, please take advantage of it. You won’t be disappointed!
See for Yourself, Day 7 – Part 2
Broadening Minds: The Role of the Checkoff in International Markets
Lewis Rone, United Soybean Board
August 15, 2023
Hello from Singapore! I’m Lewis Rone, a USB director from Portageville, Missouri, and I’m excited to be a part of the 2023 See for Yourself mission. While in Singapore, we met with Tetra Pak, and I spoke with one of their researchers about a very interesting topic: an enzyme that improves the taste of tofu. At our next stop, we met with Bunge’s international grain trading team. I was particularly intrigued to hear more about their how their processing facility back home in Cairo, Illinois, recently doubled its capacity – it’s only about 60 miles north of my farm. We also toured ADM’s facility, learning a little more about what they do and about their business in international trading of U.S. soybeans in Southeast Asia. In the evening, we met with the Consulate General of Singapore. (Consulates General offer specific services to help their citizens living abroad that include improving business transactions, as they help local companies and businesses from their country to establish their business, invest, or exchange goods or services to promote trade between the two countries.) The See for Yourself trip has been a very positive experience, both for the soybean farmers, who may become USB or state soybean board members in the future and, of course, for current USB directors, we’ve been able to see our strategic investments come alive. It’s been a treat to engage this new generation of farmers who are interested in seeing what the checkoff is doing in export markets, and I believe this trip will help better prepare them as they interact with their fellow growers about the role of the checkoff in building global demand of U.S. Soy. When you go overseas, you see things that open your mind and broaden your ideas. It’s amazing how much you can learn in such a short time.
See for Yourself, Day 7 – Part 1
Witnessing Market-Building Efforts for U.S. Soy First-Hand
Colby Watts, Delaware Soybean Farmer
August 15, 2023
Hi everyone, my name is Colby Watts and I’m a soybean farmer from Laurel, Delaware. I’m in Southeast Asia on USB’s See for Yourself tour, and we’ve arrived in our final country on this trip, Singapore. Today we visited Tetra Pak, which allowed us to take a closer look at the packaging of soy foods. The company is developing a process, so soy milk, tofu and other soy foods sustain a longer shelf life. We also visited Bunge, where we learned about their marketing approach and how they buy and sell soybeans. We learned more about what they are doing with soy products in their processing mill. Singapore is definitely a very large jump in market maturity. On Day 1 of our mission in Cambodia, we saw first-hand how our checkoff dollars are spent on projects to further build that market, such as aquaculture facilities and soy-based feeds. We then saw a more developed marketplace in Vietnam on the journey to growing demand and now in Singapore, we see where all of these markets are headed and the bright future of our investments. See for Yourself has been such a positive experience, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to participate! To see where our checkoff dollars are going and how much work happens behind the scenes to keep markets growing and prices up for U.S. farmers is eye-opening. I honestly never realized the amount of effort that goes into establishing trade opportunities and building export demand for our U.S. soybeans. Where I live on the East Coast, most of our soybeans go into chicken feed, and we have so much demand there that I never worried about what’s beyond our domestic uses. So, to come over here and see what everyone is doing internationally on behalf of U.S. Soy farmers has been the chance of a lifetime.
Ho Chi Minh City
See for Yourself, Day 6
Vietnamese Soy Milk Producer Leverages Sustainable U.S. Soy Logo
Jake Showalter, Iowa Soybean Farmer
August 14, 2023
Hello, I’m Jake Showalter, a soybean farmer from Hampton, Iowa. Today marks Day 6 of the See for Yourself tour – and it’s our last day in Vietnam. We visited Ichiban, a major producer of soy milk here. U.S. soybeans are a major component of their product, and the company uses our beans specifically for their quality, taste and texture. Ichiban is also one of the first adopters of the Sustainable U.S. Soy logo. As the world’s consumers demand more sustainable products, this logo has become increasingly important, and Ichiban can leverage it to generate new sales and marketing opportunities. Just the fact that our logo takes up real estate on their company’s label shows how much they value sustainability and the sustainable products that U.S. farmers grow. This trip has been eye-opening for me. As we kicked this mission off in Cambodia, we saw a truly developing country. It’s a completely different world over here, and we witnessed the role that U.S. Soy plays in Cambodians’ everyday lives from aquaculture to producing their own food. Coming into Vietnam, we saw a more advanced level of soybean processing through products such as soy milk and tofu. The difference between these first two countries is just amazing! Now I’m looking forward to visiting Singapore to see a completely different market for U.S. soybeans. I’m interested in learning how exactly they use our products and how we can better serve them, which has been a theme for every country that we’ve visited.
Ho Chi Minh City
See for Yourself, Day 5 – Part 2
Checkoff Dollars Working in Vietnam’s Food Sector
Lance Rezac, United Soybean Board and U.S. Soybean Export Council
August 11, 2023
Hello from Vietnam! I’m Lance Rezac, a soybean farmer from Kansas. I serve as a USB director and as the vice chairman of USSEC. Vietnam has a very young age demographic and is growing both economically and in population, as is most of Southeast Asia. Today we visited a traditional wet market, where we saw a variety of meat hanging up, fish displayed and plenty of soy products. From there, we traveled to a smaller grocery store and a meat market, which I view as a step up in societal economies. There, we saw U.S. meat and pork, including Johnsonville brats! I’m a pig farmer who sells my pork to Johnsonville, and so I told an employee, “This could have come from one of my sows” – very neat full circle experience! The last stop in our retail journey was at MM Mega Market, which is similar to Costco. It’s hard to believe that this store and a wet market exist side by side, but you can see the future – it’s going to be these large stores and consumer packaged goods and not backyard-fed chickens anymore. U.S. Soy is working to promote sustainable production practices in markets like this where there’s such growing opportunity. My last stop today was at a trade show promoting Vietnamese food. USSEC was handing out free tofu samples at its booth, and they were quite popular! Yesterday, they handed out around 1,100 samples and looked to do the same today. We did some interviews there with the local newspaper and TV station to highlight U.S. Soy’s high quality and sustainability attributes. Looking back at today, I am amazed at the various activities funded by our soy checkoff dollars. Who knew we hand out tofu samples in Vietnam? Or host cooking competitions here? As a soybean farmer, I’m proud that our checkoff dollars are working in so many different places, doing so many different things, and bringing back a return on investment of $12.34. Seeing it is believing it, and I experienced it first-hand here in Vietnam.
See for Yourself, Day 5 – Part 1
Building Demand for U.S. Soy with Retail, Chefs and Food Service
Emily Griffiths, Indiana
August 11, 2023
Hi! I’m Emily Griffiths, a soybean farmer from Kendallville, Indiana. On Day 5 of the See for Yourself tour, we explored the different retailers and buyers of U.S. Soy here in Vietnam. In the morning, we visited a wet market (i.e., market that sells fresh produce and meat), a truly unique experience. As the day progressed, we moved to different types of retail establishments. It’s so interesting to see the variation in the products available, but more importantly, as a U.S. Soy farmer, it makes me really proud of the quality products we produce. This afternoon, we were at a mega market where USB, USSEC and the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) teamed up to present an exciting, in-store student culinary challenge. The cooking challenge provided a unique opportunity to showcase not only U.S. poultry products, but also soy oil. The event brought food service and retail professionals together, creating interest and excitement among shoppers about U.S. Soy and soy-fed products. Hopefully, it will encourage those consumers to look for U.S. Soy-branded products that are readily available in their grocery and market cases. A key focus for USAPEEC is its work with young professionals and food service, which helps to get these end users enthusiastic and familiar with soy products. As interest and understanding about soy’s uses and access builds from food service all the way to retail, demand will continue to increase. And more demand for U.S. Soy-fed products like meat and poultry ultimately creates more demand for U.S. Soy.
Ho Chi Minh City
See for Yourself, Day 4
Bridging the Gap: Differentiating U.S. Soy in Vietnam
Brent Gatton, United Soybean Board
August 10, 2023
Hello everyone, and greetings from Vietnam! My name is Brent Gatton, and I’m a soybean farmer from Bremen, Kentucky. I chair USB’s Audit and Evaluation Committee, along with serving as a director on the Kentucky Soybean Board. If you’ve been following along on our See for Yourself mission, you’ll remember that we began in Cambodia, where we witnessed firsthand how our partner WISHH identifies end users in emerging markets. We’ve transitioned to Vietnam. This gives us an opportunity to bridge the gap in the work that U.S. Soy does here in Southeast Asia, because we’ve traveled from a new potential market to one where demand is growing. In Vietnam, the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC)’s boots on the ground work to differentiate U.S. Soy and build market share, and there’s still plenty of room for potential in this country. Today we toured Bunge and Wilmar facilities – here, Bunge purchases the soybeans and Wilmar crushes them. Soybean meal that is crushed here is a little more coarse than what we crush in the U.S., and I learned that Vietnamese customers prefer coarser meal because of the country’s winds. This perspective provides a good reminder that we always need to think about what our end users want. I gave a presentation about my operation, Valley View Farms, to customers, speaking about my sustainable farming practices. Buyers asked questions about this year’s U.S. crop, and we assured them that due to advanced genetics, our soybeans can withstand lack of moisture and extreme heat better than ever and that we expect to harvest a good crop. My participation in See for Yourself makes me confident in reiterating that there is no better investment than investing in future generations of soybean leaders. Whether they become involved in the state or national soy checkoff, WISHH, USSEC or the county level – or even if they are talking with fellow farmers at the local coffee shop – they have the knowledge that our checkoff dollars are being spent wisely and are being leveraged to their maximum potential, providing U.S. soybean farmers with a solid return on our investment.
See for Yourself, Day 3
Connecting the Dots: Partnerships Drive U.S. Soy Demand in Cambodia
Meagan Kaiser, United Soybean Board
August 9, 2023
Greetings from Siem Reap! My name is Meagan Kaiser. I’m a soybean farmer and soil scientist from Missouri, and I am the current chair of the United Soybean Board. On Day 3 of the See for Yourself mission, we spent time working with aquaculture producers who have utilized the CAST grant, which, as Tyler explained yesterday, is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We watched as the farmers raised locally grown fish that utilize U.S. Soy as a feed source. Our group observed their new way of fish farming – instead of sliding them out into the sun to dry when harvesting them, they are now using a more sanitary space similar to a greenhouse. The new processing area keeps the bugs out, brings fish to the proper temperature and allows for air flow. What a great way to package protein that can be used later in a food safe-conscious environment! We then visited a grocery store – more of a small market – and saw they were selling everything from whole soybeans to processed soybeans, along with prepackaged frozen fish and vacuum sealed dry packs of fish. It’s wonderful to see how our soybeans are being utilized as a sustainable protein source here in Cambodia. U.S. Soy is truly part of the complete protein package in this developing country. As a USB director, it’s been really fun to watch our See for Yourself participants and see how they’re starting to connect the dots. We’re helping to leverage points of access to the marketplace and it’s great to see that as we start to put all the puzzle pieces together – like USB’s partnership with ASA through WISHH and how that is then leveraged through other partners at USDA and here locally in Cambodia. We’re helping to utilize sustainable U.S. Soy in every life, every day.
See for Yourself, Day 2
Cambodia’s Aquaculture Industry Utilizes U.S. Soy
Tyler Rill, Maryland
August 8, 2023
Hello everyone, my name is Tyler Rill and I’m a U.S. soybean farmer from Hampstead, Maryland, where I’m part of my family’s Lippy Brothers Farms. I’m very excited to be part of the 2023 See for Yourself tour, and the last two days have been an incredible experience so far. On our second day here in Cambodia, we traveled to Siem Reap, where we visited a family-owned aquaculture business, Rathada Farm. It was amazing to see what our soybeans are used for and how they go from our fields to ultimately feeding fish in other countries, supplying our aquaculture customers with an excellent source of high-quality, sustainable protein. One thing that I found fascinating here is that they farm only male fish because they grow more quickly. You learn something new every day! Seeing the partnership firsthand between the American Soybean Association, the Commercialization of Aquaculture for Sustainable Trade (CAST), USB and WISHH has been eye-opening. This collaboration engages different farms and organizations to help them grow their businesses. Some of them are family-owned and still very small – they might only have four in-pond raceway systems (IPRS), while others may be much larger. IPRS provides constant water circulation and improves fish management in feeding, treatment and harvest. The ultimate goal of our partnership is to strengthen the Cambodian aquaculture industry and feed more people. The word “awesome” tends to be overused but having the opportunity to be here in Southeast Asia and seeing for myself how U.S. Soy plays an important role in global food security is truly awesome.
See for Yourself, Day 1
Ryan Frieders, Illinois Soybean Association
August 7, 2023
Hello, I’m Ryan Frieders, a U.S. soybean farmer from Waterman, Illinois, and a director for the Illinois Soybean Association. We kicked off the 2023 See for Yourself tour today in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city. We’ve noticed both new construction and development along with older, more dilapidated buildings, so there’s a wide range of wealth here. Our friends at the American Soybean Association’s World Initiative for Soy in Human Health – or WISHH – took us on a tour of a feed mill and a tofu processing facility. At the feed mill, I noted the juxtaposition of state-of-the-art technology along with limited resources for the laborers themselves – I saw a robot and a man with no shoes working side by side. This facility processes a variety of high-quality, high-protein feed for fish, poultry, pork and cattle using U.S. soybeans. Next up was the tofu facility, which was small-scale and very clean. Here, they were making tofu from non-GMO, clear hilum soybeans (which are the preferred soybean for the food manufacturing industry, used in flours, soy milk and tofu). In speaking with the owner, I learned that soybean variety and color is more important to him than GMO or non-GMO beans. I’m a big fan of soy milk, and I had the opportunity to try a sample here, along with tofu, of course. They both tasted great! The owner told me he’s looking to buy more U.S. soybeans and would like to have U.S. assistance to further grow his business, which organizations like WISHH, the U.S. Soybean Export Council and the United Soybean Board can help out with. This shows me how he values U.S. Soy – and he’s not the only one. Overall, I’ve found the people here in Cambodia to be very positive and happy to see Americans. This country feels like a good place to be investing our resources to grow the market. There are a lot of Cambodians who are looking for a higher quality protein, and we can help provide that through not only our soybeans, but also through other U.S. value-added products like soy-fed meat and eggs.