Telling Our Sustainability Story

Combines Red Dust in Diamontino, Brazil

Alabama soybean farmer David Wilson believes his fellow U.S. farmers have a great story to tell, and should tell it more often. Wilson, who chairs the USB Sustainability Initiative, recently ventured to Brazil and Argentina, where some farmers have begun getting some of their soybeans and corn certified as sustainable. According to Wilson, many South American farmers do a good job promoting their sustainability, something he feels U.S. soybean farmers can do better.

Q: What was the most important thing you learned while in South America?
A: I think Brazilian and Argentine farmers are doing much more than we are as far as trying to prove their sustainability. We are doing the same things they are. We are farming sustainably. But we’re not showing that to the rest of the world as much as they’re trying to.

Q: Can you give an example?
A: I was very impressed with the farmers in Brazil and Argentina in that the first thing they wanted to do when you went on their farm was to show you examples of sustainable practices. They wanted to show you a video; they wanted to talk about it; they wanted to show you what they were doing to conserve the land. And I think we need to do more of that – not just as a group, but also as individual farmers. I’m sure I’m like most U.S. soybean farmers in that there’s nothing on my farm I’m ashamed of, and we need to prove that.

Q: Does it make sense for U.S. soybean farmers to pursue sustainability certifications?
A: Most of the farmers in Brazil and Argentina who are willing to become certified are very large. It’s a little easier for large farming operations to justify going through the certification process and the expense that comes with it than it would be for smaller farmers like we have here in the U.S. When you’re talking about the size of the farms in Brazil, I don’t know that we have any of that size here.

Q: How do you expect this certification trend to impact U.S. farmers and the global marketplace?
A: There will be an increase in certifications. Some farmers here might even try to get certified, particularly some who are large enough to utilize shipping containers to keep their soybeans separated. But most of our current customers do not currently require us to be certified, so it’s not a major issue to us now. It could become a bigger issue, and the soybean checkoff will stay on top of it, but I don’t think you’re going to see a major rush for U.S. soybean farmers to try to become certified.

Q: How important is it for U.S. soybean farmers to be aware that sustainability makes sense financially?
A: I think all farmers, but especially U.S. soybean farmers, need to keep sustainability at the front of their minds. I think most farmers do that. For most of us, being sustainable just comes naturally. Our soil and water conservation programs go all the way back to the Great Depression. We adopted no-till practices decades ago. And we all need to have conservation plan on our farms if we participate in government farm programs. If we’re not sustainable, we’re not going to be around very long. My farm’s been in my family for four generations. We’ve been on the same land many, many years. My soils have done nothing but increase in value and fertility over those many years, and I have a successful farming operation.

David Wilson raises soybeans, corn and wheat on his row-crop farm with his son, Jeremy, near Lincoln, Ala. He has been a volunteer United Soybean Board (USB) and soybean checkoff director since 2002 and currently serves as team lead for the USB Sustainability Initiative.