Illinois farmers have led the nation in soybean production five of the last six seasons. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Illinois producers raised nearly 700 million bushels of soybeans in 2018 with an average yield of 65 bushels per acre.

Favorable growing conditions played a big role, but so also has the technology and innovation our state’s farmers have been willing to try.

Maximizing productivity and profitability are bedrock priorities of the Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program. But how ISA approaches those goals is changing as the world changes.

To sustainably help reach new yield and production targets, we are embracing fresh ideas that will set Illinois producers apart, evaluating new technology and connecting with innovators to expand our capabilities.

Case in point: A new strategic alliance between the ISA checkoff program and Global Ag Investing will bring the annual AgTech Nexus USA conference to Chicago this July. The event showcases innovations and investment opportunities in the ag-tech sector.

We believe that ag tech is helping to define our future. Ag tech is innovation that seeks to introduce new biological, digital and mechanical tools, drive increased farm-level profitability, improve existing farm practices and launch new business models.

An emphasis for ISA is the support of multiple technologies that work together, for example a suite of applications that aggregate soil type, nutrient levels, moisture and weather, to provide actionable information, versus solutions that provide information in a silo, requiring producer aggregation and analysis.

Ag-tech interest is growing. More than $1.6 billion was invested in 2018, supporting more than 200 deals.

Coastal states like California and Massachusetts topped the list for most ag-tech investments, while Illinois had just 7 percent of total investments. Clearly, with resources we have to offer here, there is great potential to draw ag-tech and venture capitalists this way.

The ISA checkoff program also is looking beyond the state’s borders. We were a gold sponsor for the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in San Francisco last month to build relationships and raise ISA’s profile among key ag-tech influencers.

The international conference is a deal-making vent for agribusiness, entrepreneurs and investors who accelerate commercialization of advanced ag technologies.

The event focused on predictive agriculture, automation, robotics and biological discovery platforms and business models and partnerships to scale new technologies.

At the same time, the ISA checkoff program is exploring other ways to generate smart uses of technology and innovation at the farm level. That includes providing learning opportunities that allow Illinois soybean producers to think outside the traditional production box.

ISA invests soybean checkoff funds in production profitability initiatives like local seminars with experts and sharing the latest information on our ILSoyAdvisor online platform and through webinars. ISA continually identifies opportunities for producers to be even more efficient.

ISA also puts resources into inventive programs to move soybeans more effectively to customers. We focus on improving logistics to get soybeans to market, including by rail, road and waterway.

And we continue to focus on expanding trade opportunities, including stepping up container shipping to open the door to new, diverse international markets for soybean exports.

ISA will continue to leverage the state’s status as top soybean producer as a way to become an ag-tech destination for innovation and investment, as well as a learning landscape for producers and an opportunity to create an environment for the best transportation infrastructure.

We want an ag-tech ecosystem that ensures Illinois soybean producers lead in competitiveness and profitability by solving real problems and capturing the rewards of these new technologies.

With 10.7 million soybean acres and some of the most progressive minds in agriculture, Illinois can help lead ag-tech expansion into the Midwest row crop market. Learn more at www.ilsoy.org.

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