Have you ever had one of those full circle moments, when many different memories and experiences converge?

I had one of those on August 21, 2023, in a nondescript hotel meeting room in New York City, when I watched one of the largest ingredients importers in Thailand sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) for support sourcing sustainable soybeans and soybean meal for food and animal feed ingredients.

In that moment, I saw more than just a formal agreement leading to the purchase of U.S. Soy products. I saw proof of the value of long-term industry collaboration, U.S. Soy investments in our markets, and generations of agricultural industry service.

My wife Monica and I farm near Claremont, South Dakota, with our sons Matthew and Mitchell. We are in the northeastern part of the state, about 200 miles, or more than 320 kilometers, northwest of Souix Falls, South Dakota, and about 145 miles, or nearly 235 kilometers, southwest of Fargo, North Dakota.

I believe in serving my industry, so I have been a board member for a variety of farmer-led organizations, including the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, the United Soybean Board and USSEC, the international marketing group for U.S. Soy. This involvement has led me to unique experiences.

In July 2023, I attended a meeting organized by USSEC in Thailand with Bangkok Produce Merchandising (BKP), which is the purchasing arm of Charoen Pokphand Foods PCL, or CP Foods. During the discussion, the company leadership requested help sourcing sustainable soybeans, which led to my full circle moment in New York City a few months later.

The ability to deliver sustainable soy products to Thai customers is just one result of many organizations working together. The path to that point required lots of work and forward thinking over many years.

A quote I like to repeat is, “Collaboration is the new currency.” This full-circle moment happened because of many collaborative efforts to make the U.S. and South Dakota a reliable source of soy, build genuine business relationships and prove sustainability.

Through years of industry service — and even our family history — I played a variety of small roles that contributed to making that agreement possible.

Becoming a Reliable Source of U.S. Soy

I first served on the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council in the mid-1990s, when the organization had funded a feasibility study for a soybean crushing plant in South Dakota. These facilities crush whole soybeans to separate the oil and protein meal components of the bean. That study and other efforts contributed to the eventual creation of the first crushing plant in our state.  

After a hiatus while our sons were growing up, I returned to the board in 2016, when a similar study showed that South Dakota could support a third crushing plant due to the growth in soybean acres.

I participated in a local working group to showcase the potential for that crushing plant in our area of the state, specifically Aberdeen. A company called Ag Processing, Inc., commonly known as AGP, notes that these efforts contributed to the decision to open a soybean crushing facility there in July 2019.

The studies and information from those collaborations contributed to groundwork for infrastructure development of the rail and port system from the Northern Plains to the Pacific Northwest that gets South Dakota soybeans to global customers. For example, South Dakota now has three crushing plants, with plans to open a fourth in 2025. And, AGP acted on that information by expanding their soybean meal handling capabilities at the Port of Grays Harbor in Washington state to export the protein meal portion of soybeans for animal feed.

Many organizations worked together to solidify our area as a reliable source of soybeans. It took all of us to make that happen.

Today, we export about six out of every 10 rows of soybeans we grow in South Dakota.1

Building Customer Relationships in Thailand

At the same time, I participated in building relationships with potential customers for those soybeans in Southeast Asia. Through an industry group, I went on a trade mission to Thailand in December 2016.

We stressed the quality of our soybeans during meetings with potential customers. However, at that time, they were very price-focused, making it hard for U.S. Soy to compete.

Through soy checkoff organizations, farmers continued investing in Thailand and in the U.S. export industry.

In August 2022, AGP hosted a small group from Bangkok Produce Merchandising, or BKP. Part of their planned tour included the soy crushing plant in Aberdeen. The company asked if a farmer in the area would host the group on their farm, and my family jumped at the chance to welcome them.

Mike McCranie answered questions about soybean production from BKP soybean meal and other raw material buyers while they visited his farm.

The group included their soybean meal buyer, another raw material buyer and a couple of their internal soybean crop experts. We showed them our soybean fields, gave combine rides and treated them to a steak lunch in a nearby small town.

Then, in July 2023, I participated in another trip to Thailand. CP Foods hosted our group to meet with BKP representatives, as mentioned earlier. As their team members filed into the meeting, I saw the two ladies who buy soybean meal other raw materials that had visited our farm the year before! Their visit strengthened the business relationship, and we enjoyed reconnecting.

Mike McCranie learns more about consumer needs and priorities during his 2023 visit to Thailand.

Proven Sustainability

It was during that meeting that I heard the request for help sourcing sustainable soybeans and soybean meal. Unlike my first trip to Thailand, the focus shifted to sustainability because that’s what CP Foods customers were interested in.

For years, U.S. farmers have been demonstrating our commitment to sustainability and continuous improvement.

Take my wife Monica’s grandfather, Frank Feser. He was on the initial board of the South Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts when it was formed in 1942, and he served as president of the organization for several years.

We continue building on his legacy of conservation and sustainability. Monica and I were fortunate to purchase land he farmed, as well as the land my great-grandfather homesteaded in 1881, and we farm this ground today. We have made vast productivity and sustainability improvements. That will continue as our sons Matthew and Mitchell continue farming. Our top goal is to pass the land on in better condition than when we started farming it.

USSEC helps international customers like BKP in Thailand document the sustainability of U.S. Soy through the U.S. Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol. That verifies that soybeans and soy products produced in the U.S. comply with set sustainability standards, and the certificates for documentation can be transferred along the supply chain, providing industry-wide assurance.

The regional USSEC team in Thailand assured BKP and CP Foods company leadership that we could help.

The result? My full-circle moment at the signing in New York City.

When I look back to my first years serving the U.S. Soy industry, I realize that progress requires the collaboration of many different groups, working toward overall, long-term goals. You never know the value of the relationships created through these efforts, but it is clearly so important to build them.

I am incredibly proud of U.S. Soy and all the work we have done to meet real customer needs around the world. Especially the need for sustainable soy ingredients in Thailand.

1 Transporting Soybeans from the Field to Producers’ Bank Accounts, South Dakota Soybean Checkoff, accessed March 2024.