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Illinois soybean farmers have much to celebrate

I had the pleasure recently of being part of the Illinois Soybean Association’s 50th anniversary celebration, also honoring the past 100 years of soybean production in Illinois.

Certainly, Illinois soybean farmers have much to be proud of and look forward to in the future.

ISA’s focus for the last year has been on embracing the past – our legacy of leadership, market development and soybean production in Illinois.

Our history has been marked with many successes in helping Illinois soybean farmers improve production. From helping craft legislation that protects our freedom to farm, to creating new markets for soy products and for overseas buyers, to funding research and promotion activities that increase profits and build demand, that has long been ISA’s mission. Here are some interesting milestones from Illinois’ 100-year soybean production history:

• In 1936, the Northern Regional Research Laboratory in Peoria was established to develop industrial uses for soybeans and soy products like plastics, paints and varnishes.

• The Land of Lincoln Soybean Association (LOLSA) – as ISA was originally known – was created in 1964 to develop the Illinois soybean industry and conduct variety testing.

• During the 1970s, Illinois farmers helped market soybeans from Mexico to North Africa. Illinois soybean farmers were a big part of the financial power behind opening nine international marketing offices and programs in 76 nations.

• At the same time, Illinois farmers turned attention to emerging markets that included development of petroleum printing inks containing soybean oil. The Soy Mark logo identified publications printed with soy ink. The Peoria lab helped develop soy ink, and St. Francis Hospital in Peoria was the first to use it for baby footprints.

• Illinois soybean volunteers began to educate consumers about the many benefits of soy during the 1980s. Dozens of people trained to become “Bean Boosters” and cooking demonstrations and product displays blanketed the state.

• New soybean uses accelerated during the 1990s. University students created candles from soybean oil and soybean oil-based crayons.

Illinois transit systems tested a biodiesel fuel blend and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new soy health claim that stated soy protein included in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.

Today our strategic plan focuses on five key areas: Animal agriculture; transportation; yield, composition and profitability; freedom to operate and organizational excellence. Not only do we want to help our top livestock and poultry customers consume more, higher quality and nutritious soy products, we want to make sure we can efficiently transport those products around the world and do so in a manner that allows us to operate freely and sustainably.

As part of the anniversary celebration, we also have been envisioning our future during the last year with a goal of using 600 million bushels of Illinois soybeans by 2020.

The volume of Illinois soybean production has grown exponentially from less than 100,000 bushels at the start to more than 460 million bushels today. Illinois has the climate, cropping systems and ready access to domestic and global markets to continue growing production for the future. Illinois soybeans generate more than $6 billion per year in direct sales alone.  Our economic impact on the state is multiplied by processing, livestock and transportation industries.

Attaining our goal of using 600 million bushels is critical to Illinois soybean farmers’ long-term competitive and comparative advantage. I invite you to learn more about Illinois soybean farmers and our organization and programs by visiting

Sharon Covert is director of the Illinois Soybean Association and a soybean farmer from Tiskilwa.

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