Gary Wheeler is the CEO and executive director of the Missouri Soybean Association and the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council.
Wheeler has held that position since 2014, and prior to his time with Missouri Soybean he spent nine years with the Missouri Corn Growers Association, including serving as deputy executive director there.
A Missouri native, Wheeler grew up in the small town of Risco, in southeast Missouri’s New Madrid County.
Earlier this year, in March, Missouri Soybean opened the Center for Soybean Innovation in Jefferson City. The center showcases soy-based products and technologies developed with checkoff funds, and it provides a place for groups supporting soybean growers to connect and continue working on ways to add value to agriculture.
The center sits on a 5-acre tract. The Missouri Soybean Association broke ground on the project in July 2018.
MFT: The Center for Soy Innovation opened earlier this year. How did that come about?
WHEELER: The grand opening of the Center for Soy Innovation was such a high point with years of work coming together for so many people.
About five years ago, we began with a strategic plan for Missouri’s soybean organizations where the farmers really defined what the association, merchandising council and foundation are and what they want to be for the people we serve over the next 10, 20 and even 30 years. The Center for Soy Innovation brings together the farmers’ priorities, showcasing the application of research results, connecting people with the incredible number of ways soy impacts their lives, and driving new relationships and collaborations around technology and innovation. It’s a proud moment for the soybean farmers and their future.
MFT: How will the center benefit farmers and the industry?
WHEELER: There’s nothing like seeing the results of hard work firsthand — that’s a hallmark for agriculture and key for the Center for Soy Innovation. Throughout the building, as well as around it, farmers, industry partners and other guests see the implementation of checkoff-supported research, and see soy-based building materials and consumer items, from insulation and paint to tires and soy turf, in action. The center is also a hub for the organizations and people working with soy, and is designed to support the in-person and virtual collaboration to keep us all moving forward.
It’s also important for folks to know that this is agriculture’s center and any of our partners have access to use and help educate. The farmers’ strategic plan is focused on research, biodiesel and growing demand for soy, and that’s exactly what you’ll see coming through the center.
MFT: It’s obviously been a different kind of year. How has the coronavirus situation affected growers?
WHEELER: Farmers are resilient! While coronavirus has changed so much and added incredible stress for our farm families and business owners, we’ve also been really fortunate in many ways this year — and we’ve continued to see the ag community step up to help those in need. This spring and summer we watched closely for any delays getting necessary inputs or delivering to local elevators or crush plants, and didn’t hear much at all in the way of problems. And when our partners in the livestock industry felt the crunch of reductions at processing plants, Missouri’s soybean farmers — through their association, merchandising council and biodiesel plants — stepped up with Missouri Farmers Care and the Pork Partnership to ensure no protein went to waste.
I would put my board and staff up against any issue or crisis any day of the week and we would succeed every time. We blessed here at Missouri Soybean, and like our farmers, we will get through this.
MFT: What is the trade outlook right now for soybeans?
WHEELER: We’re looking at a strong crop, better price and a lot of movement when it comes to the global marketplace. We’re watching for purchases from China and continued investments in infrastructure across Asia and South America, alongside strong demand from our domestic crush, livestock producers and biodiesel plants. We continue to make strategic investments with our partners across the globe looking at new markets as well as those very important secondary markets that maybe we overlooked over the past 10-20 years.
MFT: How would you describe the mindset and expectations of soybean growers as we head into harvest time?
WHEELER: Farmers have to be optimists or they probably wouldn’t be farming. That may be the best summary for farmers’ mindsets.
On a deeper level, the baseline expectations for access to markets and consistency in the regulator space are still there. Farmers are making the best decisions possible with the information they have and planning for next season, all while watching the weather extremely closely. Let’s hope Mother Nature cooperates and we have a successful, safe and uneventful fall.