Difference Makers: Eric Wenberg

Eric WenbergWhat is the current status of the specialty soybean industry?

It is strong and growing. We have some threats and obstacles on the horizon, but farmers and sales companies are moving ahead. Bad weather seemed to touch everyone in the U.S. this year. The same is true for farmers with contracts to grow identity-preserved (IP) soybeans. The Chicago Board of Trade price travels up and down. With the premium for IP soybeans, it is better for farmers who undertake the hard work IP processes require.

Our obstacles are U.S. regulation and foreign market access. We say the United States wants to build connections from farm to table, but try to get a phytosanitary certificate or grain inspection in a rural community or load a container and you understand quickly we didn’t build those systems to work from our rural businesses – we built them for efficiency from ports. The expense is tough on businesses. We also need to break down market barriers abroad.

How would you advise farmers to explore specialty soybean production?

There are businesses and cooperatives that focus on connecting farmers with premium contracts. ISA runs SoybeanPremiums.com, and SSGA is happy to exchange information about specialty soybeans with Illinois. Farmers worry about yield loss in taking up a food soybean variety that might be conventional or take on special traits. Our farmer members report their premium makes up for yield loss if they even have it. With precision agriculture, the results for food varieties can be phenomenal. It takes cleaning your trucks, or worse, cleaning your auger but it can be done. A premium of $150-200 per acre can mean the difference in revenue that moves a farm ahead.

What role does containerized shipping play in specialty production?

The container market is growing. Federal inspection data show in some months, containers reach 22-24 percent of total tonnage shipped. That’s a huge increase! Developing countries want commodity soybeans but lack the means to unload and use them in large amounts or lack equipment. The other market is for specialized beans and products that often are optically sorted, bagged, palletized, loaded and shipped. These containers move at higher values and set the market standard for high quality. End users get exactly what they ordered and paid the premium to get it. They make a higher margin in the manufacturing process, so farmers should be connected in the supply chain to those transactions and hold brokers accountable for a fair price.

What’s the bottom line for the specialty soybean industry?

We have to pay attention to giving customers at home and abroad what they want. We need to be listening and changing our system to suit who is buying. Every soybean grown in the United States needs to be grown with a market in mind, with its qualities at the forefront of the sales conversation. Farmers deserve to be paid for their work.

SSGA wants to grow the markets at home and abroad to help farmers add acreage and earn more. We are promoting science and study in this field such as for trying to find better weed control options for farmers. We also help our members stay up-to-date on regional seed developments.

IP practices grew out of the quality seed trade. The premium market has to operate as part of our farm and sales system, not stand apart from it. It’s in our DNA to help. That’s our goal.

Eric Wenberg is executive director for the Specialty and Soya Grains Alliance (SSGA), a member-driven voice for the identity-preserved farm industry in soybeans and specialty grains. Members include producers, brokers, exporters, freight forwarders and transport companies focused on gaining extra premiums and solutions for easier, more efficient container traffic.