U.S. soybean farmers take great pride in caring for the land they farm. Through a long-held ethic of leaving their farms and resources in better shape for the next generation and a more holistic understanding of conservation science, for decades, farmers have embraced environmental sustainability in a manner strikingly consistent with how we think of sustainability today.
Aspiring to reach today's sustainability goals, modern farmers wear many hats, from scientist to engineer and from data analyst to business strategist. When they need additional information, they reach out to consultants and advisors to get the job done. Today’s farmers produce more food with less land and fewer resources with an eye ever toward improving quality. They are driven by a principle of continuous improvement in every aspect of their pursuit. This holistic doctrine is deeply personal. In many cases, their farm is also their family home.
Investments in research and education projects, supported by the U.S. farmer-funded soybean checkoff, are empowering farmers to capture value for their U.S. soy crops in diverse and exciting ways. From tofu, tempeh and miso to baked goods, packaged foods and snacks, both soybean oil and soy protein provide companies with high-quality and environmentally friendly options to support the population's increasing need for food.
In addition, soy sets trends, particularly as a complete plant protein in the growing health and wellness space. Protein is a powerhouse nutrient and soy is one of the few complete plant-based proteins that also helps provide essential nutrients for a well-balanced diet.
Innovation plays a key role, as soybean oils with specific qualities for the food industry deliver revolutionary advantages and soybean meal with specific nutrient profiles promise increased efficiency for livestock producers.
U.S. soy's versatility as an ingredient in the non-food space also offers a renewable, bio-based option in everyday products as diverse as biodegradable plastics, tires, asphalt and even sandals. Soy presents a sustainable solution.
U.S. soybean farmers are a part of the climate solution
Soybeans, the second largest crop grown on U.S. soil, cover more than 85 million acres of land in 2021, and U.S. soybean farmers work hard to advance the health of our planet through farming practices, taking into account soil health, water quality and habitat conservation.
That dedication to the world around them also pays off through increased efficiency made possible by precision agriculture – a suite of farming practices harnessing satellite technology and advanced data analysis to inform farmers about field latitude and longitude where water or treatments are indicated. Using precision agricultural practices, farmers narrow in on every square foot of land and determine exactly what is needed to grow a healthy crop. As a result, they grow more protein per acre, using less water per ton of output than any other plant source. As many farmers know, farming in harmony with the environment is just good business.
With progress fueled by technology, farmers' enhanced focus on sustainability does not go unnoticed. The U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP) empowers exporters to verify the sustainability of U.S. soy. This independently audited program measures sustainability attributes such as biodiversity, production practices, public and labor health, as well as continuous improvement.
U.S. soybean farmers stay sustainable even as our growing world presents development challenges including limited resources and more mouths to feed. The soybean checkoff supports farmers every step of the way. Through the checkoff, farmers make critical innovation investments through ground-breaking research and even better methods to analyze data.
The U.S. soy community continues to collaborate, domestically and globally, to prioritize all three widely viewed aspects of sustainability -- economic, social, and environmental. After a diverse group of global soy stakeholders mapped these priorities to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it became clear that U.S. soy has much more to offer a global future. Soy extends solutions not only toward zero hunger, but also plays a fundamental role in clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life on land and partnerships.
The aspirational vision needed to propel soy forward through the year 2025 can be found in the environmental goals set seven years ago by soybean farmers as well as partner organizations. Those include lowering greenhouse gases by 10%, reducing soil erosion by 25%, increasing energy-use efficiency by 10% and reducing land use impact by 10%.
Coming soon: Food companies can showcase responsible sourcing with sustainable U.S. soy mark on labels
While U.S. soy farmers advance to meet those goals, companies looking to build and showcase their commitment to the health of our planet will value the recent launch of U.S. Soy's Sustainable U.S. Soy Mark. The mark recognizes U.S. grown soy ingredients – and when you see the mark associated with products, you can rest assured that it was grown using environmentally sound farming practices and is helping to contribute to a healthier planet for all. Following a pilot program, the trademark communicating soy as a sustainable solution directly to consumers will be available to companies that qualify by using soy as a key ingredient in the items they produce.
Polly Ruhland is CEO of the United Soybean Board, the organization that manages the national soybean checkoff, a farmer-funded initiative that invests in research, promotion and education projects to create value for soybean farmers.