Soybean Business: Q&A with Outgoing MSR&PC Chairman Paul Simonsen

This story first appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of Soybean Business, the magazine of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and features outgoing Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Chairman Paul Simonsen. Click here to read more articles from Soybean Business.

Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council Chairman Paul Simonsen has seen a lot of accomplishments in his two years as chairman.

The Fairfax, Minn., farmer has overseen plenty of change during that period, whether it be in the growth of foreign markets, to the changing of the guard with the University of Minnesota’s soybean breeder, to the development of a strategic plan. Simonsen took some time out of his schedule this spring as he prepared his planter to talk a little more about his time as chairman of MSR&PC.

Q: What are some of the things you’ve accomplished as Chairman?

A: Well, we, and I say we because this takes the efforts of all our directors and our staff, have accomplished a lot in the past two years. Some of the things I am most proud of are our revised strategic plan, our work with our foreign markets, which has included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Taiwan to purchase U.S. soybeans and corn, our promotion of 10 percent biodiesel, and our funding of the soybean breeder position at the University of Minnesota.

Q: Why was the Memorandum of Understanding with Taiwan so important?

A: Well, it was a big deal. The Governor was there, representatives from the Minnesota Department of

Agriculture and the Corn Growers were there along with some pretty high ranking officials from Taiwan. There was a lot of media coverage and many cameras. Signing the memorandum wasn’t that difficult, but I had to get up and say a few words and the Governor said a few things and then the Taiwanese officials did.

What’s important to note is that not all of the soybeans they buy would be coming from Minnesota. Taiwan does this more as a show thing to commit to buying a certain amount of soybeans and corn from the United States. They had done this before in Illinois, and when we were over there we invited them to come over and do it in Minnesota. So they came over the next summer and did. They pride themselves in buying U.S. products and being very friendly to the U.S.

Q: You mentioned a strategic plan. How does this benefit Minnesota soybean farmers?

A: The strategic plan is important because it allows us to better invest farmers’ soybean checkoff dollars into areas such as market development, research, new uses, environmental stewardship, education and marketing communication efforts. All of these investments are made to help make soybeans more profitable.

As directors, we’ve worked hard to develop this new strategic plan, which has better aligned us with our mission. But the strategic plan is only a map or a guide to help us achieve our goals. Without all of my fellow directors caring about the success of Minnesota soybean farming, and without an excellent staff to help us reach our goals, we couldn’t be successful investing checkoff dollars.

Q: Dr. Aaron Lorenz recently took over as the University of Minnesota soybean breeder. MSR&PC helped fund the new breeder’s position. Why invest soybean checkoff money into such an endeavor?

A: Not every state has a soybean breeder. That kind of sets us apart from the other states. If we have our own soybean breeder, they realize where we are and they know our climate a lot better than the bigger companies.

And of course, he does food-grade varieties, which benefits our organic farmers as well.

And then you have to consider that our varieties have to be a shorter season than most of the United States. We need good varieties for our climate. We also have our northern soybean counties, and it’s especially true we need varieties for that climate that benefit our northern growers. So having our own breeder is crucial to growing new varieties throughout our state.

Q: You served as the Minnesota Corn Growers Association President in 1993 and had a lot of success with helping start E85 in Minnesota after your term as MCGA President. What led you to MSR&PC?

A: Well, I served on the Corn Growers for about seven or eight years, and t hen I represented the Corn Growers during the E85 initiative. After that, I took about 10 years off before someone approached me about running for the Council. From my time with Corn, I’d hear things were done a little differently at Soybean, so I said, “I’ll go and find out for myself.” I came more to see what the organization was like. I had no intent to run for office, and I think at the end of my first year someone nominated me for office and I declined. Eventually I took on secretary or treasurer thinking I could just keep a low profile. So much for that, but you never know where you’re going to go, I guess. I’m definitely proud to have served the Council and glad I did find out for myself how important the checkoff is to soybean farmers.

Q: What’s the next chapter hold for you?

A: Well, after June when my term as president is done, I’ll have another year remaining on my term with the Council. After that, I’m done. I think I have done my duty with ag commodity groups. You never want it set in stone, but that’s the way it is right now, that’s the way I’ve thought about it all along, and I don’t see me changing my mind. There are good people out here. You just have to knock them off center and get them to see what needs to be done and how to be involved.