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Dignitaries Mark 100th Year for ASA

by Steve Grinczel

Published: Friday, August 14, 2020

Past, present and future converged at the historic farmstead known as "Soyland" located at the intersection of Hoosier innovation and global significance.

Gov. Eric Holcomb was on hand last week Tuesday to officially confer the state's blessing on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the American Soybean Assn. on this exact site in rural Camden, Ind.

USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky underscored the international economic importance of a crop that literally and figuratively took root in American agriculture in nearby fields.

As various dignitaries, descendants and farm broadcaster Max Armstrong took to the microphone to vocalize the accomplishments of the Fouts brothers —Taylor, Finis and Noah —they might as well have been talking about the sibling trio's much more celebrated contemporaries like Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford.

"They were known around this area but not to that large of a scale," said Elisha Modisett Kemp, Noah's great-great-granddaughter and the state government and industry affairs leader for Corteva Agriscience, a major seed company. "I don't know if our ancestors realized there was this kind of potential (for soybeans), but I think it was what they were hoping for.

"It makes me feel blessed and honored to continue that legacy."

The Foutses weren't the first to plant a soybean seed in U.S. soil, but no one outside of Asia had recognized or developed the plant's possibilities the way they did.

The state's newest historical marker, unveiled in front of the Fouts family's working farm at 3858 North S.R. 29, says as much.

The celebration, complete with memorabilia exhibits, generational tractors and plots planted with era-specific soybeans, filled in a lot of the blanks for 73-year-old Darrel Bowman, who was 5 when his grandfather, Taylor Fouts, died.

"This is a tribute to my grandfather, which is what I like," said Bowman, who is retired from the trucking business. "I didn't get to know him very well, so for me, this is kind of a remembrance I didn't have of a lot of things. I do remember working one day with him in the shop, but being 5, I was probably more trouble than I was help."

Speakers related what the Fouts brothers did a century ago to what's happening today in agriculture, especially in recent months under the cloak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"So much innovation has occurred here, so many firsts have occurred here, so much rich history," Holcomb told the tent-covered gathering. "The now legendary Fouts family perfected the seed here, sold it here, the revolutionary soybean harvester was invented here and finally, the American Soybean Assn. sprang to life here.

"Just think about how far we've come from this patch. We couldn't be more proud that those seeds that were first planted here in Camden have really grown into this premier ag industry. We couldn't be more proud that Indiana is home to 22,000 soybean farms and 200,000 ag-related jobs."

Ironically, by the time the brothers hosted 1,000 farmers from six states at the inaugural Corn Belt Soybean Field Day on Sept. 3, 1920, many of their advancements had been achieved while the country was in the grip of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

The National Soybean Growers' Assn. was formed at that initial meeting and it became known as the ASA in 1925. Since then, the organization has grown to 300,000 members in 30 states while uses for soybeans continue to evolve from a popular condiment on the dinner table to gasoline engine lubricant to biodegradable drinking straws to concrete-curing compounds to herbicides.

It all started when patriarch Solomon Fouts received two varieties of soybeans from the USDA in 1896 for trial plantings in Carroll County. A series of failures continued annually even after Taylor, the youngest son and a 1902 graduate of Purdue University's school of agriculture, began applying what he learned in the classroom to the farm as part of a Purdue study keen on finding a new, commercial protein source.

Solomon gave each of his sons 160 acres and Finis and Noah, also Purdue grads, joined in the study in '08. A year later, Finis harvested the Foutses' first successful crop of soybeans.

"Their fascination with soybeans quickly increased, mostly due to its inherent qualities as forage for their livestock and nitrogen for their corn," Modisett Kemp told the audience that included 37 offspring of all three brothers. "At first, the neighbors thought it was crazy to see whole acres dedicated to soybeans and they laughed at Taylor for his 'high-tone, college ideas.'

"But that laughter quickly turned to intrigue when they saw how the corn grown with the beans were, 'tall, green and thrifty looking' and across the road, the corn without the soys were not nearly as tall and were somewhat 'tired and sickly yellow.' The Foutses' hogs were also gaining about 2 pounds per day."

Off and running in 1910, the Foutses hosted their first local field day that September, attracting farmers from adjoining Cass County and the surrounding area.

As the crop began to grow in popularity, it fell on the brothers to adapt existing equipment and create new versions of machinery for planting and harvesting while Taylor served as the first ASA president.

After his formal presentation, Holcomb said the Foutses' pioneering spirit is being carried on by today's Hoosier farmers under times of duress caused by the pandemic and other factors.

"COVID-19 has produced a lot of uncertainty and injected a lot of change in our lives," he said. "But again, Hoosiers and the Hoosier farmer are persevering, and figuring out different ways to grow and adapt. I always gain a lot of confidence after I spend five minutes with a Hoosier farmer and they tell me, 'We're going to get through this just like we did the last one,' no matter what it was Mother Nature or manmade."

Holcomb expects the $100 million in state funding allocated to expanding rural broadband, before the pandemic seized the gears of government, to be spent as intended. E-learning, tele-health and the need to work from home have exposed the lack of connectivity outside of urban and suburban locales.

"What we want to do is continue to lead," Holcomb said. "This is becoming increasingly more of a necessity."

In 1924, thanks to the diligence of the Foutses, soybean farmers around the country averaged 11 bushels per acre, Armstrong reported. This year, they'll average 54.2 nationally and Hoosier farmers are anticipating a yield of 59 bushels per acre.

Soybeans are America's biggest agricultural export by far and numbers the Fouts brothers wouldn't have been able to comprehend should continue to grow despite the current state of acrimony between the U.S. and China.

Censky, who served as the CEO of ASA for 21 years and is also a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, expects China to honor the $36.5 billion in agricultural purchase commitments this year through Phase 1 of the U.S.-China Trade Agreement signed in January.

A big portion of that amount will be soybeans and demand will only increase as the world's population increases from 7.6 billion people to nearly 10 billion by 2050. There's no shortage of inspiration at Soyland for how to go about feeding all those mouths.

At the USDA's annual Agriculture Outlook Forum in February, "we set the goal to increase U.S. agriculture productivity to 40 percent by 2050 while cutting the environmental footprint in half," Censky told the group. "And how are we going to do that? It's through innovation and technology that we're going to be able to continue to have the tools to increase the per-unit farmer and farm productivity while at the same time cutting back on the environmental footprint.

"We think it can be done. Many times agriculture is viewed as part of the problem, (but) we think that agriculture is the solution that can solve those twin challenges of both a hungry world and a changing climate. As we look at the next 100 years, we're going to have to welcome those new technologies and innovations."

Standing on the driveway where those first loads of Fouts soybeans were transported in horse-drawn wagons, Indiana Soybean Alliance CEO Courtney Kingery was in the perfect place to reflect on the past and look toward the future.

"When we fast-forward 100 years, a lot has changed but a lot has stayed the same," she said. "We see the same resilience and dedication and focus. One of the reasons this farm in Carroll County was selected was because of the infrastructure they had—the (Wabash and) Erie Canal, some telephone lines, the railroads. Now when we talk about infrastructure, it's broadband. We need that same advancement.

"There's always going to be farmers who love to bring forth the bounty of the ground. That's not going to change. It may just be with flying tractors. Who knows?"

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