The fight between commodity groups has been ongoing for several years. But, one group is seeking to change that, and bring all agricultural producers to one table to learn how to support each other.

The United Soybean Board (USB) developed and implemented its Animal Agriculture Initiative (AAI) a year ago. It's aimed at educating soybean producers on the benefits livestock production brings to them.

“The livestock industry keeps facing pressure from different oppositions — whether it be new regulations, activist groups or just folks opposed to livestock production,” says Terry Ecker, AAI board member, and a soybean and livestock producer from Elmo, MO. “We at USB decided it was time for us to be proactive and support the livestock industry since it is our No.-1 customer.”

He adds the livestock and poultry industries consume 94% of the soybean meal produced in the U.S.

“But, only 2% of soybean producers are aware of the impact the livestock industry has on the soybean industry,” Ecker says, quoting a figure from a soybean checkoff-funded survey of soybean producers.

Strategic planning

Armed with that information, USB sat down with the American Soybean Association, fellow soybean industry representatives and university researchers to formulate a strategic plan for AAI.

According to Mark Pietz, AAI chairman and a soybean producer from Lakeville, MN, a three-point plan was developed:

  1. To create a positive business and legal climate for animal agriculture.

  2. To improve soybean quality as a feedstuff through research to improve digestibility and performance of soybean meal for the animal agriculture industry.

  3. To work with fellow trade associations to make sure meat promotion and trade issues are being addressed.

“I'd say that 90% of our focus is on No. 1 — trying to create a positive business climate for animal ag producers to succeed,” Pietz says. “A lot of that is informing soybean producers how important animal agriculture is because there's a big information gap there.”

The first year

AAI's plan went into action in 2004 as it researched the impact the livestock industry has on the main 23 soybean-producing states.

“We discovered the livestock industry in those 23 states generated a total of $149 billion in output, earnings of $24 billion and provided 1.2 million jobs,” Ecker says.

AAI is taking that information and breaking it down per state, and Ecker adds, the group would like to break it down per county to show the importance of livestock production on regional levels.

They're also partnering with qualified state soybean boards in six states and one region in a cost-share program to provide educational promotion materials — print ads, billboards, radio ads, etc. — to make producers more aware of the livestock industry's role in soybean production.

The partnership includes Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana and the Delmarva region (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia). They each received $100,000 grants for campaigns focusing on the economic and social impact of livestock production in those areas.

“During the next year we want to further increase producer knowledge, but we also want to move this to a more national agriculture effort,” Pietz says. AAI has been working with national organizations including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), Farm Bureau, and National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

Partnering with livestock groups

In fact, they've already begun a few projects aimed at providing more resources to the livestock industry. One project in its final stages is a state-by-state listing of regulations affecting food-animal producers.

“It's a one-source database for anyone who has questions or needs the information. You can also use it to compare states and counties,” Pietz says. That report should be available in the next month.

NPPC is co-funding a couple of research projects looking at improving soybean allergenicity and developing a net-energy formulation to evaluate feedstuffs.

NCBA is also supporting the program. Kendal Frazier, NCBA vice president of public opinion and issues management, says NCBA has spoken with AAI members and is exploring areas for NCBA participation.

Frazier adds, “Any information that puts into context the importance of animal agriculture to the U.S. economy is positive.”