Ohio soybean grower first to lead checkoff

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USB Chairman John Motter
USB Chairman John Motter

JENERA, Ohio — John Motter didn’t get to farm with his father for very long, but it was long enough to learn some important values — values like leaving the farm better than you found it, being a good steward of the land and standing up for what you believe in.

Motter, now 63, lost his father, Ralph, to a farming accident when John was only 25. The loss still affects John today, but he counts those 25 years as the building blocks to his success — which in December reached a new level when he was named chairman of the United Soybean Board, the national soybean checkoff.

“I would still like to ask him questions, but I reach back to those values that Dad instilled,” Motter said.

National office

Motter was appointed to the United Soybean Board eight years ago, by former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. His term continues through December 2018, and he is the first USB chairman from Ohio.

The goal of the checkoff is simple: increase profitability for growers. “It’s our mission, it’s the mission statement and it’s something we remind each other of quite often,” Motter said.

The checkoff is an investment by farmers and industry, and one that people should expect a return on, Motter said. Farmers fund the checkoff with half of a percent of the market price per bushel of soybeans they sell.

New products

The United Soybean Board uses those funds to promote the beneficial uses of soybeans, including research into new uses, and educating consumers about the importance of soy and soy protein.

Motter knows the value of soybeans first-hand. He not only grows them on his 750-acre operation in Hancock and Allen counties — but he’s also one of the first farmers to grow an innovative type of soybean known as “high oleic.”

Motter farm
John Motter’s farm, in northwestern Ohio.

Motter began growing high-oleic beans in 2011, as a specialty crop. High-oleic soy oils have zero trans-fat, splatter less than conventional oils, and retain a favorable taste, according to the restaurants and people who have cooked with high oleic.

In the beginning, there were only about 12 farmers growing 2,500 acres of high-oleic beans, Motter said. Today, after becoming commercially available, there are about 350,000-400,000 acres.

He expects that number will increase over the next few years, as more countries approve growth of the beans. He sees high oleic eventually reaching the target of about 18 million acres.

Creating value

Motter says the high-oleic beans are just one example of how the USB has worked to create more value for soybean growers — and there have been others.

According to USB, there are more than 800 products that contain soy, including livestock and human foods, construction and automotive supplies, rubber tires, and even the padding inside the chairs at Motter’s farm shop.

John Motter with planter
John Motter, in his farm shop near Jenera, Ohio.

He points to companies like Goodyear, Procter & Gamble, Sherwin Williams, and most of the major farm equipment companies, as partners who have helped the checkoff advance soy products.

“These are all partners making products that 20 years ago, you didn’t think would have any kind of soybean in them,” Motter said.

He travels the country helping promote soybeans, and he’s also involved with the International Soy Growers Alliance — which represents the six soybean exporting countries. Those include the U.S., along with Paraguay, Uruguay, Canada, Brazil and Argentina.

He said it’s good for exporting countries to work together, so they can speak with a united voice.

“You find that there are some common problems, and it’s good for grower groups from those countries to go into the importing countries with a united voice,” he said.

Gary Wilson, a retired Ohio State University Extension educator from Hancock County, said Motter’s leadership is special for Ohio.

“It’s a real honor, not only for Ohio but for our county,” said Wilson, who grew up farming in the same neighborhood as Motter.

Wilson said that Motter helps create “win-win situations” for soybean growers, and is a good promoter of agriculture in general. Since about 2000, Motter has helped organize the Hancock Leadership Ag Day, a local event that takes youth and adults out to farms to discuss agriculture.

Motter also served nearly 30 years on the Hancock County Fair Board, and helped raise funds for new buildings. And he served on OSU Extension’s advisory board for about eight years.

John Becherer, the USB CEO, said Motter has been a leader on the board and in the soybean industry.

“John Motter has been an ambassador for high oleic and truly connects with farmers when talking about his decision to grow 100 percent high oleic,” Becherer said. “We appreciate his commitment to the soybean board and to the future of the soybean industry.”

Making sacrifices

Serving on the soybean board has forced Motter to make some sacrifices, because of competing dates and lack of time. But one area where he doesn’t sacrifice is his own farm.

Motter does most of the work himself, and his son, Jeremy, helps with equipment repair and welding. A daughter, Allison Lutz, died in 2015, from cancer.

The farm raised hogs and beef cattle until the mid-1990s, but today is exclusively a crop operation.

Motter still farms with a well-maintained John Deere 4450 that he bought new in the 1980s.

“It’s only fault is the cab’s not big enough for all of the electronics that we put on (tractors) today,” he said.

He does his own planting and harvesting, and still enjoys the satisfaction of watching a new crop grow and mature.

In his final two years on the soybean board, Motter wants to continue promoting the value of soybeans, and get more younger farmers involved. He said the board has a good amount of age diversity, but he sees more opportunity for younger producers.

“There’s nothing wrong with a few gray beards in the room, but when we’re all gray beards, then we have a problem,” he said.

Motter said young farmers have a lot to be proud of, and should share their story when they get the chance.

“You’re doing it right — why not tell them,” he said.

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