Back to my roots serving soybean farmers

john lumpeBy John Lumpe, CEO, Illinois Soybean Association

Sometimes life takes interesting turns and leads you to unexpected places, like the soybean fields of Illinois. I’m excited that those turns brought me to the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) and the opportunity to serve the state’s more than 40,000 soybean farmers.

While I didn’t grow up on an Illinois grain farm, I did grow up, in a professional sense, in Ohio soybean fields. I spent 15 years of my career serving as executive director at the Ohio Soybean Association, the Ohio Soybean Council and the Ohio Soybean Council Foundation. For a city boy from Columbus, Ohio, one of life’s greatest surprises has been discovering that my passion is working on behalf of soybean farmers.

After Ohio Soy, I had the incredible opportunity to create an advertising agency known today as FLM/Harvest serving the ag and rural industry. I continued my work there for many years, serving the industry that I love.

And in the twists and turns of this Columbus boy’s journey, it’s been an incredible honor to come back to my roots in a sense, serving the top producing soybean state in the country. ISA named me CEO on February 4 and I became an Illinois resident the next day. So, you could say I like to hit the ground running.

Upon starting my new job, I committed to delivering a first-90-days plan to the ISA board of directors. This plan included meeting all 24 of our board members face-to-face, or via Zoom and FaceTime in many instances due to COVID-19. And although I planned for many things in my first 90 days, coping with a global pandemic was not one of them.

We remained open for business as an organization and as an industry. Because of the unique times we find ourselves in, I’ve learned a lot about Illinois farmers during my first three months on the job. The farmers I’ve been able to meet are proud. They are committed to education and being the best farmers that they can be. I enjoyed meeting many at the Soybean Summit in March.

The resiliency among Illinois farmers is astounding. They are already working toward producing another crop that will hopefully keep Illinois ranked as the No. 1 soybean producing state. It’s exciting to see the crop reports and know that producers are optimistic about growing soybeans. Soybeans are more than a crop, though—they’re an economic engine not only for Illinois communities and the state as a whole, but also for our country.

Beyond getting to know the great producers in our state, my plan for the first 90 days included looking under the hood of the ISA organization and providing a fresh, outside perspective. This meant getting to deeply know our staff and understand the roles, responsibilities and skillsets of the ISA team members.

I knew I wanted to focus on building relationships and fostering collaboration from day one. I’m happy to report that by day 90, we were on our way with strengthened relationships and renewed enthusiasm for our collaborative work in the Illinois ag industry, particularly with our counterparts at the corn, beef and pork groups, as well as with Illinois Farm Bureau. So far, this has been my favorite part of the job.

One collaboration that I’m very proud of is partnering with Illinois Corn to distribute more than 4,000 gallons of Illinois-made corn and soybean-based hand sanitizer to ag retailers. We also partnered with the Chicago Park District to make hand sanitizer in their biodiesel facility, producing more than 600 gallons of sanitizer to distribute to park employees and first responders. These two partnerships alone make me incredibly proud of the team working on behalf of Illinois soybean producers. This work demonstrates the need for state-wide relationships, both within the industry and outside of it, to make all Illinois industries successful. That is work I’m eager to continue.

It’s been an incredible journey so far at the helm of ISA and I am excited to do great work together. And by together, I mean through driving an organization that works tirelessly for the good of Illinois soybean farmers who fund this checkoff, comprise our membership and make this good work possible.

Thank you for the warm welcome in Illinois and for allowing me to get back to my roots. I am both honored and humbled. To stay updated on ISA and the Illinois soybean checkoff program, visit ilsoy.org and watch our YouTube video.