Minnesota Soybean Business

Earning his keep: Joel Schreurs completes ASA run, looks ahead to next leadership positions

During his few dozen trips representing Minnesota and United States farmers in the nation’s capital, Joel Schreurs remained awed by his surroundings on Capitol Hill.

“It was extremely humbling to sit down and have those conversations with the representatives and senators, because I’m just a farm kid from southwestern Minnesota,” Schreurs said in late November 2023 after returning from pheasant hunting in his native region. “That was just way beyond the realm of what I ever thought I would do.”

After nine years advocating on the American Soybean Association (ASA), Schreurs termed off the board during the organization’s December meeting in St. Louis. Throughout his three terms, Schreurs, in his customary cool, calm approach, articulated ASA’s policy priorities to dozens of lawmakers, legislative aides and agency leaders – all while navigating the heat of D.C. and the complexities and tunnels of Capitol Hill. Just don’t expect him to get too sentimental; he’ll leave that to others.

“It’s been a fun ride,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it.”

A trade expert

Schreurs didn’t aspire to become an ASA director. A decade ago, a fellow board member on the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) originally intended to fill the seat but was unable to make the time commitment. Schreurs, who had served as MSGA secretary and later vice president, volunteered to run for the position, knowing full well he was making a big leap.

“It’s one thing to serve on a state board,” he said. “It’s a whole other animal to be on the national board.”

He proved an ideal fit as a national advocate. Schreurs, who chaired an international marketing committee within Minnesota Soybean, became one of ASA’s foremost experts on international trade. When he joined ASA, Schreurs personally lobbied its president at the time for a seat on the trade policy team.

“I’ve been working on ag policy for trade since I started,” said Schreurs, who first became involved with Minnesota Soybean when he participated in a See For Yourself trade mission to New Orleans. “I’m not in it for the trips – I don’t care about that – but I know trade policy, and they put me on the committee, which was surprising.”

In his role, Schreurs joined ASA advocates in urging D.C. legislators to support the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) during the home stretch before Congress passed the massive trade agreement known as NAFTA 2.0 in January 2020. He also vocalized MSGA and ASA’s concerns throughout the U.S.-China tariff war. During a 2019 Farmfest forum with legislators and then USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue, Schreurs stepped up to the microphone and – despite knowing he might not receive the warmest of receptions – explained how the policy hurt soybean farmers.

“Trade is like any other business. Once you lose market share, it’s very difficult to get it back,” Schreurs said. “When you upset a customer, they’re going to remember that, and I was concerned we were going to get hung out to dry.”

Joel Schreurs welcomes a trade team from Asia to his Lincoln County farm.

Worthington farmer Bill Gordon, who served as ASA president from 2019-2020, said Schreurs’ dignity and intelligence didn’t go unnoticed among his colleagues. Despite an increasingly polarized D.C. environment, Schreurs studied the issues and worked with both parties to advance farm policy.

“Joel is one of the most dedicated board members I’ve ever worked with,” Gordon said. “His passion for trade and representing all soybean farmers was something we all admired. I am proud to have worked with Joel all these years.”

Schreurs won’t overstate his policy impact. Advocacy isn’t an individual sport – it’s more basketball than golf – but he played his part.

“You never know your impact because you’re just one voice,” he said. “It’s definitely a team effort.”

Proper preparation

Walking Capitol Hill intimidates many visitors. The hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital is overwhelming – and that’s before entering a room with an influential lawmaker. D.C. is a place where a Minnesota farm boy can feel a long way from home.

“I was scared,” Schreurs said of his first visit to D.C. “It was unnerving, but once you become more comfortable and have that connection, so they actually know you by your first name, that’s super important.”

Schreurs established bonds with legislators from both sides of the aisles, from Democratic Rep. Angie Craig to GOP House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, along with myriad legislative aides. Since 2021, he’s enjoyed working with his current congressional representative, Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach.

Schreurs talks policy resolutions with George Goblish during a delegate session at Commodity Classic. “The farmers you work alongside, you become very close with them,” he said.

“It’s all about connections,” he said.

Schreurs gained respect and admiration from his colleagues through intense preparation. Like his colleagues, he’d arrive at breakfast the morning of Hill Visits with a firm understanding of ASA’s priorities to deliver to legislators.

“He always knew the policy issues,” said ASA Director George Goblish, a longtime friend and colleague who served as MSGA president during Schreurs term as VP. “When Joel spoke, everyone would listen, and he would talk in a way that people can understand. We’re really going to miss him lobbying.”

Goblish also respected Schreurs’ economical way of speaking. He never needed to be the loudest voice or smartest person in the room.

“He’s a man of few words,” Goblish said, “but the words he says count, and they’re well thought out.”

Redwood County farmer Jeff Sorenson, who replaced Schreurs on ASA, echoed Goblish’s sentiment.

“When Joel speaks,” Sorenson said, “people shut up and listen.” Schreurs credited his fellow farmers with showing him the ropes. He’s paid it forward and offered advice to up-and-coming farmer leaders.

“Just try to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are, and you’ll learn a lot more,” he said. “It worked for me.”

New goals

In June 2023, MSGA’s board elected Sorensen to fill Schreurs’ position. Minnesota currently supports seven directors on ASA, the most in the organization’s history.

“I’m very confident in Jeff replacing me,” Schreurs said. “He’s well spoken, he knows the issues. He’s a quick study. To be honest, they’re all better than I am, probably. We have some of the best board members we could possibly have.”

Sorenson, who learned the ropes from Schreurs during ASA’s July 2023 D.C. Hill Visit, said he has big shoes to fill – and relationships to grow and maintain.

“I appreciate everything Joel’s done. He’s been a wealth of knowledge,” Sorenson said. “The rapport he’s built with legislators – they trust him, they believe him. I hope to continue on that path.”

Schreurs isn’t saying goodbye to soy leadership. He’ll remain an MSGA director and complete his term on the U.S. Soybean Export Council. In 2024, he’ll set his sights on directing soy checkoff resources by throwing his hat in the ring for a seat on the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council.

“Joel would be an excellent addition to the Council,” MSGA President Bob Worth said. “He knows soybeans and understands the importance of the difference between the Council and MSGA and would be a huge asset.”

Farmer leadership brings plenty of sacrifices, both in expenses and valuable time away from family and farming operations. Schreurs said his positions on MSGA and ASA wouldn’t have been possible without a strong family unit supporting the farm back home in Lincoln County.

“If not for my son-in-law, Matt (Milner) and daughter Ashley, there is absolutely no way I could have taken the time off to do those trips,” he said. “My family helped make all this possible.”


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