A conversation with Jim Sutter

Jim Sutter (pictured bottom right) is CEO of the U.S. Soybean Export Council

Good morning, Jim. Could you please tell me about the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and what it does?

We differentiate and build a preference for U.S. soy, and we ensure market access for U.S. soy in markets all around the world. We have a global network of about 140 people that work for our organization, most of them are outside the U.S.

How do you differentiate U.S. soy?

We demonstrate to our customers the U.S. Soy Advantage. It is anchored by four key elements. The first is its exceptional composition and intrinsic quality such as its amino acid profile and energy level. The second is consistent supply and reliability of our farmers and the whole export supply chain. The third is sustainability and our farmers commitment to protect the environment and conserve our natural resources. The final element is innovation beyond the bushel and the U.S. soy industry’s promise to continually adapt, evolve and improve.

How environmentally sustainable is U.S. soy?

Sustainability is in the DNA of our farmers; 97 percent of our farms are family-owned and nearly all are multi-generational. The farmers I talk with are always proud to tell me that they are 4th, 5th or 6th generation.

For me, one of the ultimate measures of sustainability is if farmers are passing on their farms to the next generation. Not only that, but farmers will all also tell you that they want to leave their farm – particularly the soil – in better condition than when they started.

The U.S. Soil Conservation Service was founded in 1935, now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and it has really helped educate and guide farmers on how to minimize soil erosion, as well as to limit the runoff of water and reduce the amount of energy they use.

When I think about what consumers around the world are concerned about – what they want to know when they’re asking about sustainability – is that the farmland will be there to feed their children and grandchildren. I think this multi-generational aspect is a great example of the sustainable way that we farm.

In addition, we have a program called the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol; it was developed by a multi-stakeholder group of global consumers, NGOs and the U.S. soybean industry as a means of verifying or showing the sustainability of our commodity. The European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC), which has developed soy-sourcing guidelines that allows buyers to verify the sustainability of the soy that they’re sourcing, has approved and recognised the verification.

How are the trade wars affecting you?

The U.S. soybean industry started investing in China 40 years ago. We’re very pleased with the relationship that we have built up over that time.

China is the largest import market in the world for soy. The trade war was detrimental for U.S. farmers, and we lost market share in this valuable destination for U.S. soy, but I anticipate this for only an ephemeral period. In the meantime, we shifted some exports to other regions, but you don’t want to be hindered from a market that makes up 60 percent of total world import demand.

We’re pleased that the Phase One agreement has been put in place, and we are optimistic that it will be implemented. The volume is significant as China pledged to buy $32 billion worth of U.S. agriculture products over two years. I know that there’s a lot of talking back and forth between the two countries, but I think at the end of the day China, and its many importers of U.S. Soy with whom we’ve built strong relationships, wants to see the agreement implemented as much as we do.

If you’re a sizable importer, you want multiple origins to choose from, so China has identified suppliers from both northern hemisphere origin (primarily from the United States) and southern hemisphere origin (primarily from Brazil). That’s how world trade works: importers want to have multiple origins to buy from, and exporters want to have multiple destinations to sell to.

How has African Swine Fever affected exports?

It did lower total global demand for soy, but it didn’t impact the U.S. too much. It was happening in China at a time when exports were down. We hear that the ASF situation is improving pretty rapidly there, and we’re glad to hear that.

With regard to ASF in other markets, we’re certainly concerned because it is a serious disease for the swine industries in those respective countries. So, we want to do all we can to help prevent the spread of ASF, and of course, stop it from reaching the U.S. We hope that science can help eradicate ASF, or at least keep it under control.

Are you actively trying to develop overseas markets outside of China?

As I mentioned, China is the largest import market for soy, but we do a lot of work in other markets as well. We diversify our marketing efforts, and we have stepped up our work in countries with large populations, low protein consumption and growing economies – for example Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Egypt.

We work to teach people in these countries, to bring them skills on how to better use soy to improve livestock nutrition – the kind of things we did in China years ago. We are trying to take that same educational model to other markets around the world.

Which are the top three export markets for U.S. soy?

As individual countries, China, Mexico and Egypt are our top three markets, but when you take the EU as a whole it slips in there at number two after China.

Does USSEC also work to increase domestic U.S. soy demand?

The United Soybean Board (USB) is one of our founding members; they do the domestic marketing work for soy inside the U.S.

USB manages the checkoff program. Each U.S. farmer contributes a small portion of the selling price of soybeans into the checkoff program, and that provides resources that USB invests in the domestic market; they also invest in the work that the USSEC does internationally.

U.S. soy farmers have been going through a rough time recently. What message would you like to send to them?

It’s fortunate that you are in the food production business. The products that farmers produce serve as the foundation for food, feed and fuel and are grown in a sustainable and high-quality manner that meet what the people of the world need to survive and thrive.

I tell our farmers to ‘stick with it’, and that the future looks bright. We have a growing world population out there. You’re going to be an important part of feeding those people in the future.

Thank you, Jim for your time and comments!

Jim Sutter presented at the IGC Virtual Conference in London on June 10th. To see his and other presentations, please register here.

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