By Marlee Moore
The world wants more U.S. soy.
That’s the message Alabama farmer Wendy Yeager heard time and time again in a flurry of foreign languages this October while representing the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) at an international retail and consumer food show in Paris.
“When people found out I was a farmer from the U.S., they immediately switched their conversation over to me at our booth,” said Yeager, who raises soybeans, peanuts, cotton and other row crops in Dallas County. “You can Zoom and FaceTime all you want, but you will never replace a good handshake and a face-to-face conversation. In Paris, I learned the importance of being present.”
U.S. soy fuels thousands of food products featured at the Salon International de l’alimentation (SIAL) — from pork and poultry to snack bars and beverages.
The show drew more than 265,000 retail and food industry participants from around the world. This was USSEC’s first year hosting a booth, where Yeager joined Virginia Secretary of Agriculture Matt Lohr and USSEC Regional Director for Europe and Middle East/North Africa Brent Babb to share insights about sustainability, innovations and the future of soy farming.
“Every person we talked to sincerely enjoyed hearing about American farm practices,” said Yeager, whose three-year term on the United Soybean Board (USB) ended in December. “The contacts we made can only strengthen relationships and grow interest and dependence on U.S. soy — the most sustainable, consistent soybeans in the world.”
Yeager also serves on the Alabama Farmers Federation State Soybean Committee. Federation Soybean Division Director Carla Hornady commended Yeager’s work representing fellow farmers.
“Wendy has never met a stranger, and her enthusiasm was put to great use for our industry at SIAL,” Hornady said. “Wendy is a homegrown leader in the Alabama Farmers Federation, and we’re proud to work with her, and for farmers like her, every day.”
In addition to media interviews, Yeager talked with leaders and agricultural powerbrokers. This included representatives from the Foreign Import Commission office, where she learned about shipping challenges and buyer concerns, and the Louis Dreyfus Co., a global agricultural merchant and processor interested in sustainability, market challenges and deforestation.
She also visited the home of the U.S. Ambassador to France, Denise Campbell Bauer, first for a reception and later as a special guest during a cotton-centric couture fashion display.
While part of the soy delegation, one of Yeager’s most impactful conversations was with Morocco’s largest dairy farmer (his herd is 4,000-plus).
“He found out I was a farmer from America and that I not only grow soybeans but peanuts, too,” Yeager said. “I had just finished up peanut harvest before leaving for Paris, so I had thousands of photos and videos on my phone. We probably talked for an hour. Then the prime minister of Morocco, who was also at the table, wanted to talk, too. I felt honored to have that conversation.”
Yeager boarded her flight to Paris on just a handful hours of sleep. Coordinating logistics for her weeklong absence from husband Jamie and daughters Casey and Lil in between peanut and soybean harvests was challenging but worthwhile, Yeager said.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” she said. “It was a real sacrifice to leave, but this trip brought some things to the surface for me that I’ll watch more closely now. We have no idea the work that goes on behind the scenes at ports with freight traffic. We hear things on the news about the Mississippi River being low, and suddenly, I was in another country and people were bringing up the Mississippi River because it’s backing up ships. That was eye opening.
“Overall, I was truly honored and humbled,” she continued. “I never thought a farm girl from Orrville could travel on a trip like this.”