After 21 years, the American Soybean Association (ASA) has a new CEO. This week, ASA named Caro, Mich. native Ryan Findlay to lead the organization.
Findlay gave Farm Journal a glimpse into not only his background, but his goals for the organization over the coming year in a one-on-one interview. He grew up in Michigan, and he says his ties the family farm are still strong.
“I'm originally from a farm in the thumb of Michigan,” said Findlay. “That's where my dad and my brother still farm today.”
It’s a passion for agriculture that Findlay says still thrives today. He currently resides in Minneapolis, Minn., with his wife Gretchen and two children, but will relocate with his family to St. Louis, Mo. this year.
He went to school at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, graduating with an undergraduate degree in political science. He quickly jumped into the ag policy field by accepting a job with Michigan Farm Bureau.
“We worked on a couple of farm bills, immigration reform, climate change and a host of regulatory issues,” said Findlay. “It was a lot of fun. Working with a general ag organization really gives you an appreciation for the full spectrum of agricultural issues.”
With Michigan’s agricultural diversity, Findlay focused on more than just issues surrounding soybeans, including working on dairy policy, issues impacting fruit and vegetable producers and labor issues. Four years ago, Findlay pursued a new opportunity, working for Syngenta in industry relations.
“I would help triangulate communication between external stakeholders like ASA, our lobby team and our commercial team—whether those are breeders or product managers—but making sure that that triangle of communication on what we refer to as ‘freedom to operate’ issues was effective.”
It’s that diversity that Findlay says will play a key role in leading an organization like ASA. He says while the two organizations for which he previously worked are different, it helped broaden his scope.
“At the end of the day they're focused on the same thing and that's the farmer as the customer,” said Findlay. “Being able to have those experiences helps me prepare for the role that I have with the American Soybean Association, as our customer is still the farmer.”
Findlay may be a fresh face for ASA, but his priorities are clear, striving to build off ASA’s 98-year history.
“It’s how do we take that foundation in and innovate—innovate step-by-step to go from a really good association that has been built by those that came before, to an elite association,” said Findlay. “That's really the focus that we need to have and the direction that we need to go. Where farmers need to challenge us is staffing and the staff need to challenge some of our farmer members to really push each other to that next level. And I hope to bring some of that energy.”
Findlay is entering in a year that could be exciting year for the soybean industry, with a record number of planted acres projected to hit U.S. farm fields this spring. However, it’s a year that could also bring challenges, from trade to passing a Farm Bill.
“There are a lot of challenges that are in front of agriculture, and so I think we can look at this in two different ways: what is going to be a challenge and what's the potential to disrupt agriculture,” he said.
Findlay says he considers writing and passing the 2018 Farm Bill as both a challenge and an opportunity.
“We're challenged because the farm bill expires this year,” he said. “There is a lot of policy wrapped into the farm bill including conservation, crop insurance, rural development. Also, as we talk on the side about the infrastructure bill, we have a farm bill that has a piece of that in rural development. So, it's going to be a challenge to get a farm bill done.”
He knows funding will be a challenge, but says he’s confident soybean farmers across the country will join other industries to knock on the door of elected officials, bring those leaders to the farm to show them first-hand how vital a Farm Bill is to American farmers.
The Farm Bill is a focus, but Findlay says another priority is persevering and bolstering trade, especially as possible disruptions are currently consuming headlines and conversations.
“There's no question that trade with our international partners - specifically China- is a concern,” said Findlay. “We need to make sure that if there are any hiccups in trade, that we can resolve those—whether that would be through working with our elected officials, working with the administration—that we could take care of that and that we address it quickly, so there isn’t a long-term tail that has a negative impact on U.S. agriculture, and specifically U.S. soybean farmers. “
Findlay says U.S. soybean farmers produce a powerful product, and he says it’s latching onto that and growing the appetite for U.S. soy he hopes to do through policy.
“Improving access to foreign markets is important for U.S. agriculture,” said Findlay.
“Our farmers can feed the world. American soybean farmers have an amazing product. It's high in protein. We want to get that to people for either human consumption or animal feed that's going to end up as an animal protein for human consumption. There are some great opportunities here with trade. We just need to make sure that the path is open for us to be able to do that.”
Findlay is starting his role as ASA CEO immediately, and will be attending Commodity Classic later this month.