Two stops. That is all it took for Brian Martin to realize just how lucky he is to raise soybeans in Missouri.
"You take for granted things in your own backyard," the Centralia, Mo., farmer says. "We are fortunate here to have such access to crush facilities, biodiesel plants and the river terminal."
Martin was one of nine farmers taking part in the United Soybean Board "See for Yourself" tour. The tour allows U.S. soybean farmers to see some of the domestic demand-building opportunities through the soy checkoff, like Mid-America Biofuels in Mexico, Mo.
It was a sort of homecoming for Martin. He has been delivering grain to the ADM soybean crushing facility right next door since 2003. His family raises soybeans, corn and small grains, along with running a cow-calf operation in western Audrain and northern Boone counties.
"This has been my primary market since I started farming," he says. One of the farms is just 15 minutes west of the ADM crush plant. What he doesn't market here is delivered to the local elevator or the river terminal in St. Louis.
The crush facility supplies oil for Mid-America Biofuels, a biodiesel plant in the heart of Missouri. The plant began operating in 2006 and is a joint venture among Biofuels LLC, ADM and Growmark. Today, it produces 50 million gallons of biodiesel annually.
Farmers heard that through investments from the soy checkoff, U.S. soybean farmers helped establish the nation's biodiesel industry. Using more than 5.5 billion pounds of U.S. soybean oil in 2015, the biodiesel industry is a significant customer for U.S. soybean farmers and accounts for more than a quarter of all soybean oil used domestically.
"It was interesting to see that we have one of the larger plants in the U.S. right here in Missouri," Martin says. But it was a visit to the Mississippi River that opened his eyes to the role the state plays in exporting soybeans.
Standing along the banks of the Mississippi River at the ADM Terminal in downtown St. Louis, Mo., Martin looks out at two barges, one of which, fully loaded, sits lower in the water.
"I was not completely aware that in St. Louis we could fill loads to maximum carrying depth to take them down to the port," he says. In the U.S., above St. Louis on the Upper Mississippi River, and along other rivers like the Illinois that feed into it, boats are limited in capacity and in size because of the lock and dam system limitations. However, once they hit St. Louis, the last lock and dam on the waterway, barge size and capacity increase. The greater the haul capacity, the more economical it becomes to ship the cargo.
"It was interesting to know just how important a role our river transportation plays in meeting demand of our soybean export markets," Martin says.
Participants learned that 58% of U.S. soybean exports depart from the Mississippi Gulf region, with 89% of that total arriving via barges traveling on the U.S. inland waterways. They discussed the importance of maintaining the infrastructure, including the lock and dam system, along the inland waterways in order to keep U.S. farmers competitive.
Martin and his fellow soybean growers also visited a field of high-oleic soybeans while touring a DuPont Pioneer facility. High-oleic soybeans add to farmer profit opportunities by offering premium prices without a significant change to production practices. The soy checkoff invests and builds demand for high-oleic soybeans to fill the food oil market need.
The group looked at soy-based products while at the John Deere assembly plant. John Deere uses soy-based sheet-molding compound for its HarvestForm tractor and combine.
Click through the photo gallery on this page to see other stops along the See for Yourself tour.
Seeing is believing
"The checkoff works around the world on behalf of U.S. soybean farmers, but we also do a lot domestically," says Jimmy Sneed, Mississippi soybean farmer and the United Soybean Board's Audit & Evaluation Committee chairman. "This year's program was an opportunity to have our participants see and understand the checkoff's domestic footprint and all that happens right in their own backyards. I think the farmers not only saw activities demonstrating how the checkoff works to develop profit opportunities for all U.S. soybean farmers right now, but they also learned how the checkoff is looking to the future to stay in front of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead."