Research plays a crucial role in the agriculture industry, driving innovation, enhancing productivity, and ensuring food security, which is why a large portion of your checkoff dollars go towards funding research projects across Wisconsin. However, it’s difficult to see the benefits of this research without some real world examples. Viewing the results of on-farm research, supported by Wisconsin soybean checkoff dollars is just one way to realize a return on that investment. Andy Bensend of Dallas, Wisconsin has been involved with Wisconsin agriculture his entire life with his experience ranging from dairy farming to growing soybeans to forage harvesting.
Kicking Off An Interest In Leadership
Bensend’s initial interest in leadership and learning about checkoff dollar usage really took off when he attended his first Corn/Soy Expo in 1991. It was there that he found interest in what commodity groups were doing, and he built lots of strong relationships with other agriculturalists and growers. Several years later, Bensend received the opportunity to be involved in a pioneer young leader program, which was “the launchpad for [his] leadership involvement.” This involvement led to being part of the Wisconsin Soybean Association for nine years, and subsequently serving on the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board. In addition to his time with the Wisconsin Soybean Association, Bensend also spent a decade with the Soy and Specialty Grains Alliance, which focuses on identity preserved soybeans.
Soybeans: A Unique Agricultural Industry
The soybean industry is unique in its sense of community, knowledge sharing, and continuous innovation. Bensend learned that in order to be successful, farmers from different regions must exchange ideas and strategies that can be applied in various geographical contexts. However, he quickly realized that, just like other agricultural industries, the soybean industry seeks simple solutions for complex problems.
The proactive approach of the soybean industry is what really sets it apart from the others. The checkoff program invests in solving problems, developing markets, and educating producers and customers about the industry’s offerings. Rather than merely producing a product and hoping for demand, the soybean industry actively identifies potential needs and barriers to the use of soybeans in various applications such as energy, food, and industrial uses.
Changing Perspective on the Use of Checkoff Dollars
As a farmer, it’s understandable to feel skeptical about the use of your checkoff dollars. Bensend admits that as a young farmer, he thought that he “could do a better job with that money than somebody else could.” However, once he began to understand that the small token of half of 1% of soybeans sold from the farm is invested for the right reasons, his perspective on the checkoff program changed. The checkoff dollars are being used to make a bigger market, teach farmers how to improve their bottom line, and more. The contribution that farmers make with their checkoff dollars is not taking away from their bottom line, it is actually multiplying their bottom line.
Building a Legacy
As Bensend is reaching the end of his career and his involvement in the soybean industry is decreasing, he has been on the lookout for people who have the same passion as him to pass the leadership baton to. He believes in the capabilities of the younger generation, and encourages young people to get involved in the soybean industry. Whether that involvement is entering a yield contest, attending Corn/Soy Expo, or networking with other agricultural leaders, there is lots of room in the industry for young farmers and for career growth.
The Checkoff Program: A Great Success
The checkoff program, though only a few decades old, has been incredibly successful. Its dollars are used to promote and encourage the use of local, U.S. soybeans and their various applications like healthy oils, sustainable aviation fuel, and synthetics. The program operates on the trust farmers place in the board to wisely invest funds deducted from their soybean proceeds to improve the market and increase profitability for all. This sense of collective responsibility and shared progress makes the soybean industry truly exciting. To learn more about research projects that are being funded by your checkoff dollars, visit our resources page. If you want to hear more about Andy Bensend’s life in agriculture, check out our podcast!