Case Study: Tale of Two Cities

ISA’s Chicago Impact Looks Both Inward and Outward

By Joy Benning

Since calling Chicago its “second home” in 2016, the ISA checkoff program has been building relationships – and influence – to ensure soybean producers have a seat at the table with stakeholders ranging from tech companies to consulates. The snapshots below provide a look at the leadership ISA is using to influence tech and trade scenes – and what that means for Illinois soybean producers. 

Bringing Agtech Home 

For the last decade, the agtech landscape has exploded from a niche investment to a legitimate class of its own. To support this expansion, the ISA checkoff program is playing the role of connector: ensuring the producer voice is well represented in talks from development to use on the farm. 

“Innovations and new technologies are surging in the ag industry,” says Linda Kull, ISA director of ag innovations and tech transfer. “Entrepreneurial leaders are moving at an accelerated pace, and industry and value chain disruptions are described as being key metrics of success. It’s imperative to participate in this movement and lead with a strong voice for our Illinois producers.”

One way ISA is promoting agtech advancement in Illinois is as exclusive executive sponsor for the 2019 AgTech Nexus USA conference. The event in July in Chicago features data-driven farm management tools, advances in genetics, robotics, blockchain and predictive agriculture and AI platforms.  

ISA is co-hosting the premier event with Global AgInvesting (GAI). Attendees will include investors, agribusiness executives, agtech entrepreneurs, university startups and researchers. And since this is the only national agtech conference of its kind specifically scheduled around planting and harvest, soybean producers also can, and are encouraged, to participate. As co-host, ISA will facilitate panel discussions and farm visits, matching ag innovators with leading agtech adopters.

“This is one of many opportunities we’re supporting to build ties between producers and tech companies,” says Kull. “Ultimately, we intend to better influence tech development and adoption to ensure the best innovations make it to those charged with producing feed, food and fuel for the world.”  

Building a Footprint Abroad

One constant of trade is that the global environment is always changing. Amid that change is a continued growth in protein consumption which offers Illinois producers to do more with soy than ever before. Given this challenge and opportunity, ISA is steadily building relationships in downtown Chicago with trade influencers just a few blocks from the office – and half way around the globe. 

For example, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Chicago represents Taiwan’s interests in the Midwest, facilitating trade and investment between the country and seven states, including Illinois. The Taiwan Agricultural Trade Goodwill Mission, organized every two years, is one way TECO promotes bilateral cooperation.

“A special focus of that mission is to purchase soybeans, which ISA helps facilitate,” says Eric Huang, director general of TECO in Chicago. “Beyond this mission, ISA is instrumental in showcasing Illinois soybean characteristics to Taiwanese importers, hosting delegations and assisting with high-quality Illinois soybean purchases. In turn, we help ISA explore the Taiwanese market and potential opportunities. It’s a win-win situation.”

TECO is one of many organizations ISA partners with to expand trade opportunities. Later this month, ISA will host more than 100 attendees at the Chicago office for the annual Illinois Export Conference, sponsored by the Illinois Chamber’s International Business Council. In August, about 500 global soy buyers and U.S. value chain representatives will attend the U.S. Soy Global Trade Exchange in Chicago. And, ISA will welcome trade delegations this spring and summer in Chicago and throughout the state.