Half of Illinois soybeans are fed each year as meal to hogs, chickens and cattle. That’s why animal agriculture is the Illinois soybean checkoff’s top priority.

Livestock and poultry production and processing creates jobs, taxes and economic activity. In fact, University of Illinois research found that $1 out of every $20 generated in Illinois is attributed to this industry.

The Illinois Soybean Association has several initiatives underway to help grow livestock and poultry production within the state and boost animal protein demand worldwide.

First and foremost, ISA responds and uses checkoff dollars to help build community support for new and expanding livestock operations, as well as protect and encourage the biodiesel industry.

United Soybean Board research shows that between 2005 and 2009, increasing demand for soybean oil to produce biodiesel actually lowered soybean meal prices by $16 per ton. The result was a $4.8 billion savings to the livestock industry.

Another way ISA supports animal agriculture is by investing checkoff funds to open new export markets for U.S. meat and poultry. Let me share a recent success story.

Before the soybean checkoff began funding a U.S. poultry export program to the Middle East through the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, no U.S. poultry had ever shipped to Yemen. Poultry marketers had virtually no knowledge of U.S. halal slaughter methods, which is required to designate food as permissible under Islamic law.

USAPEEC representatives have spent the last two years increasing knowledge and awareness of U.S. poultry through technical seminars with importers and consumers, trade and consumer point-of-sale materials and a public relations campaign.

As a result, U.S. chicken imports increased during the first half of 2012 to 245 metric tons, up from 20 metric tons during the first half of 2011. Two new companies began importing and distributing U.S. chicken parts, and five new retail outlets began purchasing U.S. chicken.

Closer to home during the last several months, NASCAR race car driver Kenny Wallace has helped share the Illinois animal agriculture story with fans, farmers and the media. At a Family Farmers exhibit during two Chicagoland NASCAR weekends, fans learned that soybeans grown in Illinois are primarily fed to farm animals.

More than 1,400 fans entered to win a pig roast with Wallace. In the fall, the four winners and their guests joined Wallace for the pig roast lunch and learned about and sampled different parts of the pork.

Wallace also visited the Du Quoin State Fair and has posted pictures and comments about Illinois agriculture to more than 167,000 social media followers.

During harvest, Wallace took time to thank grain farmers for growing feedstuffs for local livestock by handing out pork sandwiches and autographed cards detailing the animal ag story to more than 400 farmers at two elevator feeds.

In addition, I want to highlight that the soybean checkoff helps provide for the more than 1.9 million people in Illinois that do not have regular access to nutritious food.

The Illinois Pork Producers Association established the successful Pork Power program in 2008 as a way for Illinois farmers to share food with neighbors in need. ISA and other Illinois groups are part of the effort.

Most recently, Pork Power delivered 38,000 pounds of pork to eight regional Illinois food banks. The ground pork satisfies a critical need for protein in the diet and on food bank shelves, and families learn to prepare and incorporate pork into healthy meals.

As we approach the Christmas season, I encourage all Illinois farmers to look around their local areas and reach out to neighbors who may be struggling. We are blessed to be part of a great industry, and can share that with those around us.

Merry Christmas!