Around 1913, Jim Carroll’s ancestors came to the area around Brinkley, Ark., to work in the booming timber industry.
“That wasn’t odd — that was Brinkley’s industry at the time with crossties and the like,” says Carroll. “When that work tailed off, they didn’t want to move again and bought some land in Lee County.
“My grandad started share-cropping for a man in Brinkley for a couple of years. He got married and then started buying a little land around here. My dad and uncles came into the business eventually.”
Later, in the 1960s, the Carroll’s began “clearing everything around for soybeans. The family was in cotton and soybeans. I still remember when we had mule teams running. Then, when it got close to the 1970s, rice production became big and we started popping wells and, by 1972, we’d gotten out of the cotton business entirely. We’ve been rice, beans, corn and wheat since.”
Carroll — who farms about 3,400 aces with his brother, Jon — now grows non-GMO soybeans for a poultry company. “That’s worked out well. We get a premium for it, and it keeps our head above water, which is about all you can ask for at the moment.”
Of more immediate interest to soybean growers in the region, Carroll is now the secretary of the United Soybean Board.
It all began when a good friend, the late Stanley Reed, was president of Arkansas Farm Bureau and one day suggested Carroll would be a good fit for the Arkansas soybean board. That eventually led to the USB position.
“We were old friends and played basketball against each other in high school. I said, ‘Stanley, I don’t know what’s going on with that.’ After a while, he talked me into it and it turned out it was exactly what I like to see: experimental tech, dealing with all sorts of things. None of it is quick fixes — you have to look at the long-term and picture what benefits will come about years down the line.”
Being a member of the USB “has been a great experience. I get to see things that are like Star Wars.”
The examples are plentiful.
“I went to a meeting in New York City and saw the results of a couple of projects we’ve had going with artificial carpet. They use soybean oil and say the carpet is better and cooler. In the big cities, a lot of activities take place on rooftops because they don’t have yards. For example, schools will have soccer fields on top of roofs. That’s unheard of here, but they claim this carpet keeps the field cooler.”
Carroll and colleagues also visited with a plywood manufacturer. “Instead of using formaldehyde, they found soybean flour can be used on the plywood. When it’s heated it turns into an adhesive. There’s no smell, you can paint over it better and there isn’t the discoloration” with other manufacturing techniques.
There was also a foam manufacturer using soybean oil. “They say the foam in a refrigerator will be a half-inch thick.
“NASA has been studying how to use less energy to keep astronauts in space. They’re working on harnessing energy trails. If you were to walk on this concrete floor, you leave an energy trail with every footstep. Well, using soy fibers, they’re looking to collect that energy.
“Hilton got ahold of this idea from Georgia Tech. When you check into a hotel, the desk wants to know if your room is ready. For privacy reasons, they can’t put up cameras in the room to make sure. But using this tech, they can track footsteps. They can know if housekeeping has been in the room, making beds, cleaning bathrooms.”
They also believe the material “will be fantastic for nursing homes and hospitals. They can maintain privacy but still keep track. Say you get up every night at 3 a.m. to use the restroom. Well, if one night you don’t get up around that time, a monitor will go off and tell staff ‘you need to check on this resident. Something may be wrong.’ If you fall in the bathroom, the energy impact will let staff know.
“When I see these things, I look around and think ‘where is Spock?’” laughs Carroll. “It’s amazing! Think about the implications of this. Will they put this in asphalt and collect the energy from tires rolling? Will electric cars that are coming be able to capture that energy and reuse it?”
Good things are on the horizon, says Carroll.
“There are so many things coming. And it’s largely attributable to the USB putting seed money into these things. Some of the projects we back don’t turn into much, but some really grow and bring us markets.”
The USB has spring, summer and December meetings. “We’ve found some of the projects are so large, though, we now have working group meetings. Those working groups — serving target areas of demand, marketplace and supply — include: sustainability, oil and meal.”
On the USB, there are 10 members of the executive committee. This year, Carroll will serve as secretary.
“We’re doing projects, like the foams I mentioned, outside agriculture. They’re now putting this foam on the outside of houses. When that or the ‘energy capture’ carpet comes to the market, it’ll only help agriculture.”
The USB has 26 areas — states or regions. “For example, there’s an Eastern region and a Western region that don’t have a lot of soybeans so they pool all their acres and have representation. The rest of the states have USB directors based on acreage. Arkansas, based on our acreage, has three. We probably won’t ever hit four directors, but that isn’t impossible. Four directors is the cap and that’s currently the situation for states like Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota and the Dakotas.”
There are currently 73 directors on the USB board who serve voluntarily. He also points out:
- Checkoff funds are collected from every U.S. soybean producer contributing at a rate of 0.5 percent of the market price per bushel, when the crop is first sold.
- In 1991, U.S. soybean farmers created the national soybean checkoff. The U.S. Congress passed a provision as part of the 1990 farm bill to form the checkoff at the request of soybean farmers throughout the nation. The law required a referendum in 1994 to determine if the national checkoff program should continue. In this referendum, producers voted to continue the program.
How can checkoff funds be used?
- By law, there are only certain areas where soybean checkoff dollars may be spent. Under no circumstance can funds be used for lobbying purposes.
- The USB is run by farmer-directors from all around the nation. Every producer serves voluntarily without pay. The USB directors are nominated by the state soybean boards and then appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.