Farm Food Facts

The Importance of Collaboration During COVD-19 with United Soybean Board

December 01, 2020 USFRA Episode 99
Farm Food Facts
The Importance of Collaboration During COVD-19 with United Soybean Board
Show Notes Transcript

Today we're going to have a very serious, frank and enlightened discussion on the importance of collaboration during the pandemic, COVID-19. My guests are Polly Ruhland, CEO of the United Soybean Board and Lynn Rohrscheib. Who's one of the busiest farmers that I know and a true leader during the COVID 19 pandemic. Polly is focused on the future working to identify areas of economic growth for nearly every aspect of the soybean industry, whether it's soy, that's used for animal feed protein, for human use or multitude of industrials and using bio-diesel asphalt, motor oil and even shoes. The Soy Checkoff works on behalf of us soybean farmers to advance agriculture sustainability through research education and promotion programs. Polly in concert with USB's 70 farmer/directors developed programs and partnerships that drive soybean innovation beyond the bushel and increase the preference for US Soy. 

Lynn assists in the day-to-day operations on the farm handling a wide variety of tasks from crop in the input decisions, keeping the books, handling insurance, employee health insurance, taking seed or chemicals to the field, working ground or chopping stocks and everything else that needs to be done. And that's just on the farm. She's also director and part owner of CNR ag supply and serves on the board of USB. She always knew her calling evident from her early days, pulling her red radio flyer wagon around her family's farm and farm supply business, delivering bags of seed or jugs of chemicals. She has the ninth generation to farm her family's farm in Fairmount, Illinois.

Phil:

US Farmers and Ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors The 2020 honor the harvest forum . Welcome to Farm Food Facts for Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020. I'm your host Phil Lempert. Today we're going to have a very serious, frank and enlightened discussion on the importance of collaboration during the pandemic, COVID-19. My guests are Polly Ruhland, CEO of the United Soybean Board and Lynn Rohrscheib. Who's one of the busiest farmers that I know and a true leader during the COVID 19 pandemic. Polly is focused on the future working to identify areas of economic growth for nearly every aspect of the soybean industry, whether it's soy, that's used for animal feed protein, for human use or multitude of industrials and using bio-diesel asphalt, motor oil and even shoes. The Soy Checkoff works on behalf of us soybean farmers to advance agriculture sustainability through research education and promotion programs. Polly in concert with USB's 70 farmer/directors developed programs and partnerships that drive soybean innovation beyond the bushel and increase the preference for US Soy.

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Lynn assists in the day-to-day operations on the farm handling a wide variety of tasks from crop in the input decisions, keeping the books, handling insurance, employee health insurance, taking seed or chemicals to the field, working ground or chopping stocks and everything else that needs to be done. And that's just on the farm. She's also director and part owner of CNR ag supply and serves on the board of USB. She always knew her calling evident from her early days, pulling her red radio flyer wagon around her family's farm and farm supply business, delivering bags of seed or jugs of chemicals. She has the ninth generation to farm her family's farm in Fairmount, Illinois, Lynn Polly . Welcome to farm food facts.

Lynn:

Thank you.

Polly:

Thank you,

Phil:

Polly. You know, let me ask you, how do you define collaboration at USB and how does that translate to everybody working together?

Polly:

I'll tell you, I don't think collaboration , uh, has undergone a bigger transformation in definition than it probably has since COVID started. And that is, we used to think about collaboration as working together , uh, in a way that was convenient for the two partners or the multi partners that work together. I think COVID particularly in the food supply business, the disruptions in the food supply chain made it very clear to those folks in our business, how collaboration must be aggressive, must be , um, uh, uh, uh, table stakes, no pun intended to , uh, do what we do every day in the food business. So how we define collaboration at USB is finding everyone that has a stake in a final product or decision and making sure that all of those folks work together to get the best final outcome that is profitable to all the entities involved. Uh, that's a little different than the kind of nice way we just , we described or we adhered to collaboration before COVID. We realized that particularly in food systems, collaboration, meaning everybody was skin in the game and everybody contributing to come to the best solution is more important than ever. Uh , a good example of that is a United soybean board's partnership with a foundation for food and agriculture research for the first time ever. We're working with funding , um , from FFAR to invest in soybean quality research and protein quality as well within the beam . We're also partnered right now with , uh , corn growers , uh, as well as the pork board working on a carbon neutral pig and those kinds of things, our supply chain efforts that require aggressive collaboration to make sure that the best output is gained.

Phil:

So Polly , just to underscore, you know, your point , um, what I'm hearing from farmers now is they used to talk to, you know, the farmers that are nearby , um, that, that they were friends with, that they could collaborate with. Uh , but now , uh, farmers across the country are talking to each other. Is that what you're finding with soy as well?

Polly:

We're finding not only our farmers across the country, talking to each other, which frankly, a service on the board like USB , uh, enables that kind of collaboration in the farm sector, but we're also finding that farmers are reaching out across the chain more than ever listen. Almost every ag product is interwoven with someone else's industry. It makes perfect sense that farming or farmers as the producers of the raw material that goes into particularly soybeans that go into feed, feed, feed food, fiber, and fuel would talk all the way across the chain to get to the consumer, which generally is the only way that cash gets into a food system. So not only are farmers talking across the country to each other, but more than ever, farmers are reaching out to other aspects of the food chain and outside of the food chain to make a collaboration real

Phil:

Well. This , um, obviously with, with COVID-19 being a , uh, a pandemic and a very sad event , um, there are some , uh , learnings that all of us across the supply chain , um, have had. And I think that those are gonna stay with us , um, far beyond COVID-19 and we're going to have a better agriculture system as a result of that. So, so Lynn, let me bring it back to the farm. What have you learned from other farmers and USB and what do you want to share with those farmers?

Lynn:

Yeah, a big thing with that would just be that, trying to figure out how to keep moving with continuously less and less and pooling in, on your friends and other colleagues that might be across the state, across the County , um, across the country, even to try to get some insight and figure out, Hey, how are you getting through this and trying to implement different processes to make sure that we're all still farming and that we're all still providing the food fiber and fuel that we need to, to make sure that not only ourselves are sustainable, but then also the consumers out there are getting the quality products that they need to , um, on a daily basis.

Phil:

So, Lynn, how are you getting through it? Um, how has COVID-19 affected , uh, your farm?

Lynn:

It has been quite stressful , uh, and it doesn't matter whether you're a large producer, a small producer, I think I'm drinking a lot more coffee now and a lot less sleep. Um, but you know, we're still here. Uh , the last several years have been quite a struggle. Um, and we keep rolling with the punches and pivoting, as we need to, to figure out how we're going to get that seed and chemical to the field and how we're going to get the parts that we need to repair our equipment. Uh, those were some really huge key things. And then also , um, a big thing has been trying to navigate the world now where people aren't working in the offices, they're working through their homes, we're all navigating the issues of connectivity through the internet and broadband. And that's been a huge struggle in itself is trying to get different things implemented or talking to the companies that we need to, to get our crop in the ground or parts, or just simple things like that. And probably, basically everything has taken about three and four more times longer to accomplish because of all these extra little hurdles and things that we're not used to dealing with. And , um, and even simple things of trying to find , um, normal PPE, personal protective equipment that we would need , um, that we would be stocking up on right before the COVID crisis hit. And you can't find it anywhere and you still can't in a lot of places. And I know we've , um, I took us about four months to get more in 95 masks for our own workers here. And that was quite a struggle. And we had to get pretty creative and trying to get the things we needed for our crew here, so that we would just be able to do the normal , uh, measures, let alone other things that we or attempted and tried to make sure that not only ourselves were safe, but yet that our crew that works versus also safe as well. And that anybody that we may come into contact with that we're all safe and still being able to get that quality product in the field and marketed and then out and then on, through the rest of the channels that it needs to go. So it's been extremely stressful, but we're learning to continuously pivot as it goes. So we're always hopeful for the best.

Phil:

You're bringing up a really good point that not a lot of people bring up. And I had a personal experience that I'll share with you too, but getting parts, getting things that, you know, you used to just be able to order online or make a phone call and you get a , so for example, about , uh, I want to say close to two months ago , um, our washer broke , uh , so called up , um, the company and they have no parts so said, okay, you know, maybe it's probably about 15 years old, probably time for a new one anyway, watered a new dishwasher for months . And I just got an email yesterday , uh, from, you know, the, the person that I ordered it from that now it doesn't look like I'm going to get it till February. So, you know, I'm learning how to wash dishes by hand, which is not a bad thing, you know, but, but people really just don't think about that entire supply chain. You know, we think about from farm to table, but we don't think about preform and getting parts that you might need to do things. So Polly , let's talk about , uh , something else that Lynn brought up , um, communication. Um, what are some of the communicating methods that have worked , um, or are things such as honor the harvest from USF RA , um, now being virtual proven efficient and, and how are you dealing with, you know, your, your board, which is an enormous board. Um, and , and how are you keeping in contact?

Lynn:

Yeah. You know, just like almost everything in life , uh, COVID has had , uh , is a double-edged sword , uh , as far as the communications area goes. So we have done a lot of working with our board members to make sure that our board stays in touch and can do virtual meetings, you know, as well as I do that, the situation for rural connectivity in this country is an absolute travesty. I mean, we have worst connection in this country and rural areas than many third world countries. Do many of those small businesses in the third world have better connectivity to run home-based businesses , uh , than we do in rural America. And so we have never felt it more , uh , more strongly than we have during the COVID, as we

Speaker 3:

Struggle to do business with our farmers over technologies that many and cities take for granted. So this communication , um, situation in COVID has been extremely difficult for us in our farmers, mainly due to rural connectivity issues that said we have gone , um, above and beyond to try to get our farmers as connected as they can be to do our board business. As you mentioned, we have 78 farmers on our board, which makes us have , um , a nice , uh , diverse number of opinions about the decisions that our board makes for our investments. At the same time, it makes it very difficult to get everybody into a high-speed environment. That video conferencing is, is , um, is available. So we have moved forward on technology adoption at a rate that I've , I would have guessed never possible prior to March with our board. If I would have told our board that in four months, we in July, we would be having an all virtual board meeting.

Polly:

I think they, well, one of them told me they would've put me in a straight jacket and holding me off literally true. It's the same thing that they said when they said, why did my predict $11 beans? I said, you would've called me off in a straight jacket, probably if I'd built the budget on that. But the truth is the staff has gone to virtual all of our financial processes , um , to virtual all of our communication with the board to virtual. So we've made that transition remarkably well, compared to how I would have predicted it. When that said, when we do things like honor the harvest or , um , the United States soy export council does overseas marketing, none of it in person or a year , uh, we find that there are two outcomes. One of the outcomes is the personal one-to-one relationship is more difficult to build. That said, we reach a lot more people with our marketing efforts. Uh, USEC has gone all to virtual meetings over the past nine to 10 months and have in some cases, five times more global participation in those virtual meetings than they ever had in an in-person meeting. So we reach , um , 33,000 people from 78 countries in , um , about 170 virtual events that you said has held since March. That is a lot more people than we would reach. Now it , in my mind is not as high quality of a reach as it is to shake hands in certain parts of the world. That's very important. So we get more information out. We get that information out faster, we get it out more efficiently as far as workload and time goes. But I worry about the quality of the relationships between our partners , um , suffering during this time and hope it doesn't continue forever. I do think one of the lessons we've learned is we can do hybrid meetings, virtual and in person , we can take advantage of the in-person aspect and now better manage the virtual aspect . So that's one of the silver linings and things.

Phil:

So let me ask you a question that I've asked , um , some other experts before supposedly , um, the, the fix for communication at rural was 5g. So every day I'm seeing on , on TV , uh, during the news, all these commercials for 5g in talking to , um, uh, an expert on this, they told me that 5g is not going to be in rural America and on farms for probably another three or four years. So what's going on here? And I know you're not, you're not the CEO of a , of a telecom , um, but you know, I, I just don't get it.

Polly:

Yeah, listen , um , we're doing a project right now at USB that we're using our board members as , um, pilot subject . And we are an analyzing what their connectivity situation is one by one. And then we're going to go back and recommend to both the board members and hopefully to their communities, some easy fixes to increase connectivity in their communities. I think what's happening is we're doing a lot of lobbying for broadband service in rural areas, but the profitability for those companies to build that infrastructure in those areas in their minds, isn't there. Okay . Because there's not that number of, there's not a good number of customers or what they consider a good number of customers. Something's got to give here, because if we want rural communities to keep doing business at the speed of American business and global business, something has to happen. So that either broadband or some other form of high-speed gets into rural communities quicker, we're not just talking about farming here. Although farming needs food, production needs are increasingly intense. As far as technology goes, be that on the tractor or just simple communication needs a computer and farm equipment farm program needs. But we're talking about encouraging rural business from farming in all and plus all kinds of areas in rural areas to keep the infrastructure of America strong. So when you ask what's going on here, I think that in some ways we're letting profit rule, whether rural communities can stay strong and healthy when in reality, we need other solutions for this to make sure that happens.

Phil:

Yeah, absolutely. Um, you know, here in Los Angeles, we have 5g, we don't need 5g. So it's , it's having convinced these people. And to your point, you know , um, this is where food begins and if we can't get a farmer , uh , good communication, whether it's for their tractor or for their cell phone , um, or to communicate with you , uh, bottom line is we've got, we've got a huge issue. We've got a problem, so how we can convince them. And I, and I love the fact that you're auditing, you know, your board members has a, to be able to have that kind of data. Um, let's, let's switch gears , um, onto consumers. Um , have you seen any , um, and this is for both of you and maybe Lynn , you know , you'll go first, have you seen any direct impact on supply with consumer habits changing as a result of COVID-19? I mean, we've all walked into supermarkets , um, and we've for the first time in our lives, we saw empty shelves and people, you know, freaked out , uh, and they bought anything that they could, has any of those behaviors affected , um, your business Lynn ?

Lynn:

Um, definitely when I'm out in the stores and that I have seen that more of the alternative food products that soy is in quite a bit in, is actually off the shelves as well, which is really exciting as a soybean producer. Um, and it just makes me think, well, are they just getting that just so they have something or are they really enticed with it, but either way, it's going off the shelf. So it's happy with me. That's using up the soybeans that I grow, which is a win for me. Um, but a lot of the other things really I've seen that people are leaning more towards trying to find local products. Um, that was very evident when the store shelves were empty with pork and beef and poultry. And I had a lot of even friends that I went to high school with that I haven't talked to in years, that called me up and they're like, Hey, do you have any cows? And you know, and pork, and, you know , we can't find anything. We don't understand what's going on. And , uh , so I did a lot of education, really more than anything, trying to help them to understand that the products really aren't in short supply. It's just the transportation system, trying to get them more , they need to, and with the way that a lot of these processing facilities we're having to work, that we're all meeting a lot of challenges that we never saw. But , um, for the most part, things went really smooth, except for if you're wanting a certain particular item, you may have to shift to something that you're not necessarily used to buying, but I have while I was talking with my tire manufacturer , um, uh , repair man that , uh, we do a lot of business with. And he was saying that actually, he's had more people ask about the tires that Goodyear in that makes, that has the soy oil in them. And I thought that was really intriguing that before it was basically myself and somebody else that was inquiring whether we could get those products yet. And , um, that he had more people during this time of COVID asking for products like that, because they knew that somehow that was going to come back and help the farmer in the long run. So I thought that was a really interesting tidbit through all of this as well.

Phil:

Absolutely. And poly give us the, the 30,000 foot level on consumer habits changing as a result of, and anything that you're paying attention to , um, as we approach the holiday season.

Polly:

Yes . So obviously we've had a resurgence in in-home cooking due to COVID-19, which means that the meal variety that folks used to get from restaurants many times they have to manufacture on them on their own. They have to keep themselves interested in their food. I think that's part of the reason why we're seeing a variety of protein choices by consumers because they're enjoying their animal proteins, and they're also enjoying their plant proteins on a regular rotation. So they have some meal variety. We've also seen a renewed interest in a lot of fitness industries. I mean, you can hardly buy a bicycle these days, the in-home bikes, Peloton , and those kinds of things are sold out all the time. So a renewed interest in fitness means a renewed interest in health and wellness through diet. And that means a renewed interest in protein as well. So whether it be soybeans protein that you get through plants like soybeans or proteins that you get through , uh , soybean customers like pork and poultry and beef, this renewed interest in both at-home cooking variety, as well as food as health and fitness , uh, are bode well for , uh, for the soybean farmer. The other thing I can say is this , um, we talked about technology on the farm. It's really important to produce food, but it's even more important probably for continued sustainability , uh , metrics in farming. In other words, it's very, it's very important to consumers that we produce food sustainably. We need technology to continue to make improvements. Um, so , uh , you know , the words when we have our tractors hooked up to high-speed internet, we can make decisions about inputs on those crops that are more sustainable than if we don't have the high-speed access. So everything comes together in sustainability. When we think about in-home cooking, when we think about products that are more sustainable and available in the U S when we think about supply issues, because we don't have as many flights overseas to bring things into the U S and lots of things are being shipped , uh, in old school fashion , um, under sustainability, everything comes together. Fortunately soy has a very good story to tell on that. And , uh, we can play in all those areas from the tires Lynn mentioned to sustainable food, protein choices, and beyond.

Phil:

So, Lynn , I'm going to ask you this question first and then , uh , poly same question for you look into your crystal ball. Um, what happens after COVID-19 and hopefully that's, you know, much sooner than, than later , um, after COVID-19 is over, what does the world of soy look like Lynn ?

Lynn:

Yeah, I think it's still going to be a very bright future for soy and that farmers and the United soybean board, we're still going to try to push as much innovation to get that bushel number and to be very sustainable and try to produce a quality product that , um, we want to produce ourselves because for us, that's a reflection of us as how good of a product we can produce. Um , that's going to help the consumer and the end user. And then also there is a lot of things that are going on that even though everyone's been working remotely and we're navigating this whole new zoom meetings and different things , uh , technology of meeting, but there's a lot of projects and things that have went on the last year. Um, there's a huge project of, with asphalt that's going on, where we're having a soy based polymer that's in that, and that has been really successful. And if that can get a lot more traction, which it's starting to be , um, the different departments of transportation in different States have been using that. And I think it's Iowa state university has had a study going on where they've actually had the asphalt down and have been , um, driving over it and seeing how it does and hot and cold climates. And that looks very promising. And , um, right now there's been about 300 million tons of asphalt , um, put down and that's a lot of soybeans that have already been used to make that. So that's very promising that that's a great way that we can , um , have our soybeans used here domestically as things get a little bit challenging possibly again in the future. But then another really interesting project that we've helped do is we've helped fund a study. Uh , we used $2 million for a research project on dredging, the lower Mississippi, and that's helped us spur some other federal funding dollars and also some dollars from the state of Louisiana to try to get that project to go so that we don't lose , uh , some very vital markets that go up and down the Mississippi river, if that dredging doesn't occur in the near future. And then as Polly mentioned earlier, the rural broadband it's absolutely dire. I am one that definitely has horrible internet. Um , I'm surprised my video is still lasting as long to tell you the truth. Normally it, doesn't, I'm lucky to have 3g on a good day out here. Um, and you know, we're just constantly trying to find ways to help return that investment, that as a producer, that I'm paying into the checkoff that's being leveraged and researched and invested in different ways. And there was actually a study not too long ago, that helps us to determine how many dollars of return there is for every dollar that we've invested on the board. And it's a little over $12 that comes back as a return on that $1 investment. So I think that's pretty , um , it's great news as a farmer, especially as these times are getting tougher and tougher for us out here in the Heartland. That we're, that that's just a very positive thing that our checkoff dollars are being leveraged and invested in such a great way. So yeah.

Phil:

No, that's a terrific return on investment. You know, I w I would take that deal any day. Uh, so poly , uh , look in your crystal ball. What is, what is the world of soy look like after COVID-19?

Lynn:

You know, I don't think soy has ever had a brighter future than it does now. Uh, I will say that I love working for sewing industry right now. I, you know, there are lots of other commodity products I've worked for several in my career. This is a very exciting time for soy. And there are two major reasons, lots of reasons, but two major reasons that come to mind , uh , from a 50,000 foot perspective, one of them is the increasing demand for protein globally. So soy is , uh , is in soy. Soy is important. So is in poultry, soy is and beef, and all of those , uh , will grow the demand for all of those products will grow as disposable income increases. And as population increases globally, that's a very bright spot for soy, no matter what kind of protein you choose to eat. The second area is that the demand for sustainability and renewability and products from consumers globally is growing exponentially. And soy is dedicated to replacing , um , extractive non-renewable petroleum based products with , uh , renewable obtainable and sustainable soybeans , um , that meal or oil. And I think those , uh, the demand for both sustainable products globally, and for a diverse protein products globally, both mean that the demand for soy is bound to increase in the future. And the future is very bright.

Phil:

It certainly sounds it , uh, and, and thank you both for joining us today on farm food facts , uh, be safe. Um, and, and Lynn , I hope you get those truck parts soon. .

Lynn:

Thank you.

Polly:

Thanks Phil.

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US Farmers and Ranchers in action would like to recognize the sponsors of the 2020 honor the harvest forum. Our movement sponsors, United soybean board and national pork board. Our presenting sponsors, Wells Fargo, Cargil and DMI. Our Platinum Sponsor the Native American Agriculture Fund. Our Gold sponsors, Bader-Rutter, Bayer, Corteva, Dairy West, Edelman, Ernst & Young, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, frog, McDonald's, Nebraska Soybean Board, and Nutrien. Our Silver Sponsors Cobank and OCP North America. Our bronze sponsor, Nestle Purina. Our Copper Sponsor, Ruan. And our donor sponsor, Tyson. For more on all things, food and agriculture. Please visit @usfarmersandranchers.org. Also be sure to look out for us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers and on Twitter at USFRA until next time.