ST. LOUIS -- After one of the busiest and most profitable years in history, the 64 farmer-leaders of the United Soybean Board (USB) gathered this week to continue to move forward by setting priorities for the soybean checkoff in 2007 and beyond.

As part of their annual meeting, USB elected Eric Niemann, a soybean farmer from Nortonville, Kan., as its chairman for the upcoming year. Board members also evaluated key target areas relating to the soy biodiesel, animal agriculture, international marketing, soybean production and soy-based food and technology.

"It is a great honor to represent the farmers of the soybean checkoff as USB chairman," says Niemann. "I will continue to remain dedicated to the mission of the soybean checkoff and want you all to know that my phone will always be on and my door will be open. I look forward to the potential of what we can accomplish together in the upcoming year."

The soybean checkoff experienced a number of accomplishments in 2006 -- one of which was 77 percent support of the checkoff by U.S. soybean farmers, a fact gleaned from a recent checkoff-funded survey. In addition, survey results showed that the usage of biodiesel by soybean farmers is just under 50 percent and support of local animal agriculture by soybean farmers continues to strengthen.

USB will be working with a budget close to $43 million in the upcoming year to effectively and efficiently fund its priorities. Topics of interest were debated during the general session of the meeting, and soy biodiesel remained near the top of the list.

It was decided that soy biodiesel quality will remain a priority in the upcoming year. The National Biodiesel Board estimates that over 250 million gallons could be used by the end of 2006 and that number is expected to increase.

This past year the focus on international markets took a non-traditional turn when U.S. soybean farmers partnered with Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil to work on reverse marketing efforts in India. India's population is predicted to surpass China's by the year 2040. These partnership efforts will continue into 2007 to strengthen U.S. farmer competitiveness around the world.

Additional successes noted during the meeting were the commercialization of 21 soy-based products funded by the soybean checkoff; increased production research for next year, especially in regards to soybean rust and other pests and diseases.

The annual meeting was preceded by two soybean industry strategic planning sessions. CONNECTIONS and Soy 2020 were designed for soybean farmers and industry representatives to collectively anticipate what the global soybean market will look like in both the short-term and long-term.

CONNECTIONS focused on emerging issues in the next three to five years. Soy 2020 was a vision session to define success for the soybean industry in the year 2020. The two-day session yielded great debate regarding the focus of future direction of various facets of the soybean industry. Representatives received a renewed outlook on where their industry's future is headed.

With Niemann at the helm, his newly elected officers are: Vice Chairman Ike Boudreaux, a soybean farmer from Lebeau, La; Secretary Chuck Friedrich, a soybean farmer from Aurora, S.D.; and Treasurer Kent Gronlie, a soybean farmer from Northwood, N.D.

The new USB Executive Committee includes the following soybean farmers: Todd Allen, West Memphis, Ark.; Terry Ecker, Elmo, Mo.; Chuck Myers, Lyons, Neb.; Mark Pietz, Lakefield, Minn.; Jack Reed, Salem, Ind.; and Rick Stern, Cream Ridge, N.J.

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. As stipulated in the Soybean Promotion, Research and Customer Information Act, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soybean checkoff.

SOURCE: USB news release.