Sustainability & the Sustainability Protocol

Updated: October 24, 2018

Current Situation

The term sustainability is used frequently in the agricultural industry, but sustainability is more than a buzzword. It is a commitment to the effective stewardship of the air, water and soil. U.S. soybean farmers have implemented sustainable practices on their farms for years. As consumer demand for sustainable products continues to rise, soybean farmers find ways to implement new production practices, continuously improving sustainable agriculture and supporting stewardship values throughout the supply chain.

Soy Industry Goals

Groups representing U.S. soybean farmers, including the United Soybean Board, American Soybean Association and U.S. Soybean Export Council, outlined and committed to goals for improvements by 2025 on a key set of metrics. The following goals reinforce the dedication of soybean farmers and the industry to be sustainable:

  • Reduce land use impact by 10 percent (acres per bushel).
  • Reduce soil erosion an additional 25 percent (acres per bushel).
  • Increase energy use efficiency by 10 percent (BTUs per year).
  • Reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent (pounds CO2 — equivalent gasses emitted per year).

Sustainability Protocol

Sustainable soybean production is documented at a national scale through the checkoff-supported U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP). Currently, 95 percent of U.S. soybean producers partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create and implement farm-specific conservation programs. These conservation practices are the foundation of the SSAP. In the 2017 marketing year, more than 11 million metric tons of SSAP-verified sustainable U.S. soy were exported around the world.

Why the Checkoff Cares

Meeting customers’ sustainability needs with quality soy products and services is one of the soy checkoff’s top strategic objectives. Many major users of soy have made commitments to purchase all or a portion of their product ingredients from sustainable supplies. Each soybean farmer’s commitment to continuous improvement at the farm level, through the use of new tools and management systems, enables them to deliver the sustainable outcomes end users want before they need them.

Key Points

  • U.S. farmers are committed to implementing new production practices to continuously improve their sustainability while protecting the air, water and soil.
  • On many farms, technology plays an integral role in every aspect of the operation. On-farm technology advancements now allow farmers to grow more food on less land and use pinpoint accuracy when applying fertilizer, water and pesticides.
  • Hands-on sustainable practices like crop rotation, reduced tillage, cover crops and water and soil management help establish a sustainable production system.

Facts & Figures

Farmers plant approximately 94 percent of U.S. soybean acreage with seed enhanced by biotechnology, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These crops make weed control more effective and less costly. Because of biotechnology, U.S. soybean farmers can reduce reliance on tillage for weed control, increasing conservation tillage and reducing the number of trips through the field. These measures lead to sustainable results such as reduced fuel use, fewer greenhouse-gas emissions, less soil compaction and less soil and water runoff.1

According to Field to Market’s 2016 National Indicators Report for soybeans:

  • Soil conservation improved 47 percent during the study period (1980-2015).
  • Energy use decreased 35 percent over the study period.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions also improved by 45 percent, reduced from 13.6 pounds CO2-equivalent gas per bushel in 1980 to 7.5 pounds CO2-equivalent gas per bushel in 2015.2

According to a study of farmers conducted by the soy checkoff in 2018:

  •  59 percent of farmers said they have changed their production practices to increase the sustainability of their operation.
  • 32 percent of farmers said improving soil health is the most important thing for U.S. soybean farmers to do to maintain and increase the sustainability of soybeans. 3

3 United Soybean Board, 2018. Winter Soybean Producer Attitudes Survey Results.