Members of the United Soybean Board and soybean checkoff met recently in Louisville, Ky., to review the state of their industry and set funding priorities for the 2008 fiscal year.

USB directors from across the nation reviewed soybean checkoff programs, discussed strategic approaches for their programs and set funding levels to protect their investments well into the future.

In the current fiscal year, USB is working with a budget just over $44.5 million, and its board set an initial budget of just over $47 million for fiscal 2008.

Eric Niemann, USB chairman and a soybean farmer from Nortonville, Kan., said it is always the goal of the board to allocate funds as they become available, as was evident at this meeting.

Approximately $6 million was made available due to increased checkoff collections. That amount allowed each USB program area to become fully funded for 2007, a goal not met previously because of uncertainties in the marketplace.

During the meeting, USB members evaluated the long-range strategic priorities of each program area as well as the ability of each program to impact the market.

Efforts by the checkoff will continue in areas such as the development of industrial uses for soy, including soy biodiesel, and soy flexible foams and solvents.

The checkoff-funded National Biodiesel Board estimates 2006 biodiesel sales totaled 200 million gallons and that nearly 3,000 U.S. fuel distributors and retailers now carry biodiesel.

Other industrial uses for soy continue to be on the rise, such as soy foam for automobile interiors, carpet-backing and furniture.

Going into the next year, the checkoff will remain focused on expanding soy use in Asian, North American and European markets. Currently U.S. soy has the fewest trade barriers among all world agricultural exporters, and U.S. soybean farmer-leaders have representatives in over 80 countries around the globe.

Another strategic focus for 2008 will be the ongoing commitment to support the domestic livestock and poultry industries. Efforts will continue to emphasize the importance of these industries to the U.S. economy and soybean industry, and to identify new soybean varieties that better meet the needs of animal feeds.

Turning to the human side of the marketplace, supporting the demands of the food industry will remain a top priority in the next fiscal year, with particular emphasis on the edible soybean oil market. Despite significant leaps in biodiesel usage, the majority of the oil crop still goes to edible oil markets.

USB members took a side trip during its meeting to visit the nearby headquarters of Kentucky Fried Chicken. YUM Brands, Inc., recently announced that all 5,500 KFC locations would be switching to low-linolenic soybean oil in their frying applications starting in April 2007.

Rounding out priorities for 2008 will be an ongoing commitment to production research and improvements to compositional quality.

In addition, the checkoff will continue its efforts to identify and measure specific quality components in the bean, such as amino acids.

“Over the years, farming has changed quite a bit, but the farmers managing their operations have not,” says Niemann.

“The soybean checkoff has effectively leveraged funds for nearly 20 years to maintain markets and ensure the creation of new ones.

“Soybean farmer contribution rates never changed during this time, and, because of efficient business practices by this board, U.S. farmers have remained competitive.”

USB will hold an open request for proposals from qualified companies for its fiscal 2008 communications contract this summer. USB is mandated by the Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, under which it operates, to annually evaluate its programs and program contractors.

USB is made up of 64 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff on behalf of all U.S. soybean farmers.

Checkoff funds are invested in the areas of animal utilization, human utilization, industrial utilization, industry relations, market access and supply.