Soybean Symposium moves online, but conversation continues

After taking a one-year hiatus, the University of Minnesota’s Soybean Symposium was primed for a return at its usual location, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska. Then preparations for the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the state, putting the event in peril. UMN Agronomist Seth Naeve, who curated the Symposium, adapted and salvaged the packed agenda by moving it to a webinar format.

Naeve was reluctant to move the Symposium, which is co-sponsored by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC), online. However, left with no other choice, he managed to make something out of nothing.

“When forced to move this meeting to an on-line format in the 11th hour, we were very concerned that our formula would fall flat,” Naeve said. “An all-day meeting dependent on input from audience members is simply not suited for a webinar format. However, the outcome far exceeded our expectations.”

Bill Gordon, American Soybean Association president, calling in from the offices of his accounting business in southwest Minnesota, introduced the webinar and highlighted the advocacy strides made by ASA during his few months leading the organization.

“This high-level conversation is important to all of us when we’re out in the field,” said Gordon, who farms in Worthington. “We all need to be on the same page talking about soybeans and how great they are.”

UMN Grain Marketing Specialist Ed Usset delivered a presentation on the current trade outlook and the coronavirus’ effect on grain prices and the overall agriculture economy. Usset predicts higher soy export projections to China are “aggressive” and unlikely in 2020 due to adverse market conditions. In the “Phase One” trade agreement, China agreed to increase its imports of U.S. agricultural products. Usset also issued an update on African Swine Fever, which continues to have an impact but has been overshadowed recently by the coronavirus.

“I remind people the reason China buys soybeans isn’t because of tofu or soy sauce,” Usset said. “It’s their growing demand for pork.”

Usset explained the impact of basis on the Dakotas and Minnesota. Increased exports to China and elimination of tariffs on U.S. soybeans would help increase grain prices in these areas, he said.

UMN Agronomist Seth Naeve deftly moved the 2020 Soybean Symposium online in the wake of COVID-19.

“Ground zero for basis and the trade war is in eastern North Dakota and South Dakota,” he said. “Their basis levels are incredibly wide. If we can get trade back on track, the greatest effect will be felt in the Dakotas and western Minnesota.”

Peter Mishek, a consultant who works with Northern Soy Marketing, attended an Essential Amino Acid trip to Southeast Asia in January with Naeve and MSR&PC Director Patrick O’Leary. He’s optimistic about the region’s increased demand for soybean meal.

“I think the market for soybean meal looks good going forward,” Mishek said “I think it looks good as a protein source and I think the U.S. domestic livestock situation will continue to go well.”

UMN animal health experts Kaushi Kanankege and Marie Culhane spoke on animal production and biosecurity.

“We have challenges with structural biosecurity to overcome,” Culhane said. “Pay attention to detail with people coming on your farm. Don’t just assume they know how to enter a farm.”

UMN Climatologist Kenneth Blumenfeld outlined the effects of climate change on Minnesota. The state had its wettest decade on record, along with record precipitation in 2019.

“But you have to consider the context: Southern Minnesota has been wet (overall) but Northern Minnesota hasn’t been along for that ride,” Blumenfeld said.

Naeve says the robust dialogue and relevant conversations proved timely and informative. More than 60 farmers and agriculture leaders stayed online for the majority of the webinar.

“We were able to provide a meeting for those registered for the in-person meeting while recruiting lots of additional attendees from across the country,” he said. “While this wasn’t the format we planned to use, the level of engagement was highly encouraging.  Stay-at-home mandates or not, we will be serving more material up in this manner in the future.”

Follow The Conversation