If you walk through the fields on Laura and Bill Foell’s corn and soybean farm in Iowa in the spring, you might notice seedlings poking up through the stubble from last year’s crop. Believe it or not, leaving the stalks and stems from the fall harvest in the fields is part of the Foells’ plan.
“We practice no-till farming,” explains Laura Foell. “So we don’t disturb the residue on the ground. In the spring we plant directly into that residue.”
By leaving this covering of stems, stalks and leaves on their fields, the Foells are actually improving the moisture, organic matter and even the microbes in the soil. In fact, nearly 70 percent of U.S. soybean farmers practice some sort of conservation tillage to not only protect but also improve the soil.
It is common practices like this that provide the basis for the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol (SSAP), which the U.S. soy industry developed to document the sustainability of U.S. soybean production.
“The SSAP and resulting certification prove that the United States is a reliable source for sustainable soy to help meet the world’s needs,” adds Laura, who also serves as secretary for the U.S. Soybean Export Council and as a farmer-leader on the United Soybean Board.
The protocol lays out the laws, rules and production practices that show U.S. soybean farmers have been continuously improving their sustainability performance for 75 years. The SSAP also includes third-party life-cycle assessment and annual sustainability reports. Together, this collection of documents shows that U.S. farmers grow soybeans in compliance with and often exceeding global sustainability standards.
The SSAP and certification were created by the U.S. soy family to help buyers prove to their customers that their source of soy is sustainable.
Even though the protocol was just introduced last fall, sustainability isn’t a new concept to U.S. farmers. Sustainability, conservation and continuous improvement have long been part of the American farming tradition. Many U.S. farmers even set aside portions of their land for forest, natural grasslands and wildlife habitats.
And thanks to improved varieties and production practices, U.S. soybean yields have increased 53 percent since 1980. But the U.S. soy industry and U.S. farmers aren’t stopping there. With support from private and public research, agronomists and technology providers, U.S. soybean farmers continually adopt new practices and products to increase the yield and quality of their crop while protecting natural resources.
“As a farmer, I have a personal interest in protecting the land and resources,” adds Laura. “I want this land to be productive for future generations – my kids.”