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Agrimarketing : May 2012
composite materials into farm equipment. Ford has led the way in the vehicle sector. "This whole process was a full- circle approach and a perfect model for getting all entities working together to benefit the soybean producer, show value for their checkoff, and put a great product into the marketplace," explains Becherer. Besides building a solid interactive process that engages the industry, Becherer also worked to create a dynamic with state soy checkoff organizations for better overall alignment. "We've become a lot more integrated," he says. USB's budget has grown, as well, from $20 million to $100 million. "Back in 1988, most of the state checkoff programs were based on cents-per-bushel," explains Becherer. "The problem is that during a drought, no bushels, no income. So we went to one-half of 1% of the net selling price at first purchase. This especially helped when soybean prices started going up." And Becherer has helped fuel this growth at a pace that has outperformed global demand for any other major U.S. row crop. For example, soybean prices set an all-time record in 2008 and have remained strong ever since, despite the downturn in some of the other U.S. agricultural sectors and the general global economy. FOCUSING ON OPPORTUNITIES Just last year, Becherer helped guide the charge to build a new strategic plan for USB. He explains that by "stepping back and reviewing where you are, and where you want to be, you create opportunities." He also feels that the narrowing of business priorities is essential. "If you have more than two or three priorities, then you really don't have any 'priorities,' at all," he says. "There's really no focus on what can be reasonably done for the greatest impact." Becherer encouraged the Board to reduce the number of its priority issues from five down to two through a board-wide comparative voting process. This has increased USB's effectiveness in addressing short-term opportunities or challenges that merit immediate attention by the soy checkoff, such as supporting the leading user of U.S. soy, the animal agriculture sector, and conducting activities that will increase public and private investment to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure. The final long-range plan was boiled down to a single page covering USB's core values, mission statement, vision, and overall strategy, along with its strategic objectives and two priority issues. (See sidebar.) "We are realigning our structure, our people, and our efforts to focus on these objectives and priorities," Becherer reports. "For example, we have a significant opportunity to develop a value capture system for soy oil and meal." "There have been no real quality improvements in soy oil or meal for 50 years," he says. "Soy from the U.S. has always been sold on quality, yet the industry is becoming aware that protein levels are stable or slowly declining. And, frankly, it's all about yield for farmers right now. We need to find ways to incentivize farmers, seed producers, processors, and so on, so they can see the value opportunities." ABOUT USB The U.S. Congress created the national soy checkoff program when it established the USB as part of the 1990 farm bill. USB, which is made up of 69 farmer-directors, has oversight solely on U.S. soy research and promotion here in the U.S. and abroad. Surprisingly, USB has only two full-time employees: Becherer and Executive Director Lisa O'Brien. "We're restricted in the number of employees by the amount of salary we can commit from the checkoff funding," explains Becherer. "But we are able to contract for the rest of our needs." Besides Becherer and O'Brien, four contracted people also work out of the USB offices near St. Louis, covering financial, communications, administration and program areas. Outside the offices, the support list gets a lot longer. USB also pulls in full-time help from St. Louis-based Osborn Barr for communications and marketing, SmithBucklin, a 62 Agri Marketing May 2012 SEARCHING FOR OPPORTUNITIES/continued from page 60 ABOUT USB AND THE MARKET FOR U.S. SOY • The United Soybean Board (USB)/soy checkoff was created under the "Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act" and is overseen by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. • USB consists of 69 volunteer farmer-leaders often nominated by their state-level soybean check-off organizations, called Qualified State Soybean Boards (QSSBs). The nominees are appointed to the Board by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. • The soy checkoff helps facilitate market growth and creation by funding and directing marketing, research and commercialization programs. • USB is supported entirely by U.S. soybean farmers with individual contributions of 0.5% of the market price per bushel sold each season. • Soy checkoff volunteer farmer-directors invest and leverage checkoff funds to increase the value of U.S. soy meal and oil, to ensure U.S. soybean farmers and their customers have the freedom and infrastructure to operate, and to meet the needs of U.S. soy's customers. • USDA statistics show global demand for U.S. soy has increased more than 150% since 1990. No other major U.S. row crop has experienced that amount of demand growth during this period. • U.S. soybean farmers planted 59 million acres of soybeans in 1991. By 2011, that number increased to 75 million acres. In all, U.S. soybean farmers have produced 50 billion bushels of soybeans over the last 20 years. • The first year farmers formed USB, the price of U.S. soybeans averaged $5.58 per bushel. Current prices are running $13 to $15 per bushel. • In 1991, the U.S. exported 684 million bushels of soybeans. In 2011, 1.45 billion bushels were sent across our borders and overseas. AM (more on page 64)