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Illinois Soybean Farmers Sowing Seeds of a Sustainable Future

Illinois has maintained its leadership in US soybean production for nearly a century, thanks to its climate and ongoing commitment to sustainable agriculture and conservation best practices.

The path to a more sustainable future is in many ways like the crop that soybean farmers plant each year. They start the spring with optimism, plant seeds for that year’s crop in just the right window of time and weather for planting, and then carefully monitor the crop. They try different things to help it grow, adjust as the season changes, and remain hopeful for a bountiful harvest. When harvest comes, they monitor crop yields and crop conditions, taking note of what worked well and what needs improvement. Each data point and each season provide new information that can be used for continuous improvement the following year.

In many ways, sustainability takes a similar approach and requires that each of us tries different things to see what works and what doesn’t. We monitor the data, we look for new solutions, we adapt to changes in our industries, and we make short- and long-term investments that protect the assets we’ve worked to develop.

Soybean farmers in Illinois recognize that “the wealth of Illinois lies in her soil, and her strength lies in its intelligent development.” This quote from Andrew Draper, who served as the president of the University of Illinois from 1894 to 1904, is as relevant today as it was more than a century ago. Illinois has maintained its national leadership in soybean production for nearly a century, thanks to its climate and ongoing commitment to sustainable agriculture and conservation best practices.

When I think of sustainability in the soybean industry, I think of programs that help farmers remain profitable, care for the environment, find new customers for their crops, and boost rural communities. The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) checkoff program is committed to helping farmers improve their sustainable production practices.

A few years ago, we compared ISA’s programs with the United NationsSustainable Development Goals — we found several positive links to goals such as zero hunger (SDG 2), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), quality education (SDG 4), and life on land (SDG 15). But farmers do more than just adopt soil health measures and implement other conservation practices on their farms. They also invest in opportunities that bring value to their farms, their customers and their communities.

Biodiesel is one of those opportunities, and it builds upon fuel technology that has kept improving over more than 50 years. It’s made from soybeans, used cooking oil and other renewable feedstock. And different blends can be easily integrated into various fuel systems.

While electric vehicles have generated a lot of buzz among environmentalists, fleets and anyone who relies on shipping or moving products can integrate biodiesel into their sustainability efforts right now. Biodiesel increases energy security, improves air quality and the environment — and it aligns with the UN’s goal for affordable and clean energy (SDG 7).

The key to helping reach these goals is collaboration and teamwork. That’s why we constantly seek opportunities to work with others to make a difference for the soybean growers we serve and the land we care for.

For example, the B20 Club is a partnership between the ISA and the American Lung Association of Illinois that recognizes Illinois-based fleets that are committed to operating with fuel that is 80 percent petroleum diesel and 20 percent biodiesel. On average, the collective biodiesel use of the B20 Club members is 4.6 million gallons annually, contributing to cleaner air and more sustainable operations throughout Illinois.

Illinois’ verdant farmlands remain the envy of the world because farmers have long focused on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future.