Trade Talks: South Dakota Soybean Leaders Reflect on Importance of Exports

April 24, 2024

With more than half of all soybeans grown in the U.S. reaching a final destination outside the country, it's no surprise that trade is a significant area of focus for the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council. Even as we look toward ways to keep value in-state through increased processing capacity, livestock development, and growth in the biofuels category, securing demand abroad will continue to help support value for soybeans grown in South Dakota.

Soybean transport infrastructure

Transport infrastructure is critical to soybean trade, and South Dakota farmers have funded several key projects through their checkoff in recent years to support greater overall efficiency when delivering their soybeans to markets around the world. Notable investments of soybean checkoff dollars include a dredging project to boost barge capacity on the Mississippi River as well as research, analysis and design at Port of Grays Harbor to improve logistics in the Pacific Northwest (PNW).

These sorts of infrastructure improvements don't go unnoticed by buyers in foreign markets. "When we go overseas to our customers, they talk about infrastructure as a prime factor in purchasing U.S. soy," said South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council District 6 Director Todd Hanten, who farms in the Goodwin area.

Hanten reiterated the prioritization the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council continues to place on transport logistics concerns in order to remain competitive on the global market. "Getting our products there when they need them is something that is important to all of agriculture — not just soybeans," he said.

The importance of relationships and product quality

While it may seem like most purchasing decisions are made solely based on price and availability, the importance of relationships and product quality cannot be understated. That's why soybean farmers in South Dakota are focused on fostering connections with international buyers through their checkoff.

South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council has sponsored trade tours to several emerging markets as well as hosted buyers on reverse trade tours to the U.S. in recent years, providing farmers and other industry leaders with opportunities to forge relationships and showcase the premier product they grow here in South Dakota.

"What comes out of (trade missions) is to build those relationships that tie the soybean they are buying to the actual producer," said Claremont-area farmer Michael McCranie, District 7 Director for the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

In McCranie's view, trade tours represent a unique opportunity for farmers to connect with buyers and discuss the many factors that contribute to the superior quality of soybeans grown in South Dakota. He likened this experience to a restaurant chef coming out from the kitchen to check in on the dining experience of their patrons. "We're proud of our product, and we want to showcase it to our customers," he said.

Both McCranie and Hanten pointed to the outstanding quality of soybeans grown in South Dakota as something that sets their product apart on the global market. They are also quick to tout the sustainable, responsible production practices exhibited by South Dakota farmers as a distinguishing factor with international buyers.

"It's actually one of the first questions they ask," said Hanten. "'How sustainable are you?' and 'How can we differentiate your product as more sustainable than that of other countries?'"

"Sustainability is always a big topic, and getting to be a bigger topic all along," confirmed McCranie. This increased interest in how soybeans are produced in South Dakota makes reverse trade missions that bring international buyers here all the more important. "What we'll do is host trade teams in the U.S. and get those same customers on our farms," he said, "and we actually show them the way we farm and the way we do things."

Being able to emphasize increased yield-per-acre efficiencies and discuss soil management practices such as no-till and min-till farming and growing cover crops goes a long way toward asserting the sustainability narrative of soybean farmers in South Dakota

Boosting demand in emerging markets

Soybean farmers are also actively engaged in supporting growth in emerging markets around the world through their checkoff. "We want to make sure we have good, diverse markets for the U.S. farmer," explained Salem-area farmer Dawn Scheier, District 3 Director for South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

In addition to her role with South Dakota Soybean, Scheier has also served in leadership roles with both U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH). As a result, she is a staunch advocate for a strategic, collaborative approach to boosting global demand for soy. "USSEC is trying to build preferences for U.S. soybeans, working in both emerging and mature markets," said Scheier.

She and McCranie both participated in a checkoff-sponsored trade mission to Morocco last winter. This delegation met with Moroccan leaders who are focused on improving efficiencies in feed processing and building up the nation's livestock infrastructure to accommodate shifting food preferences.

"Morocco is the fifth largest economy in Africa," said Scheier. "It's a market we need to be in and one where we've got really good potential for growth." She praised the role USSEC's Soy Excellence Center plays within the region in terms of supporting growth in beef, dairy, poultry (laying hens and broilers), aquaculture and more

Get involved in supporting global soybean demand

Opportunities abound for South Dakota soybean farmers to participate in checkoff-sponsored efforts to support trade and export activities. These include See For Yourself tours to learn more about transport infrastructure in the PNW and trade tours to new and emerging markets, not to mention reverse trade tours hosted in South Dakota. For more information on getting involved, talk to your district director or visit