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From the fields to the boardroom, Kyle Durham promotes Missouri’s soybeans


Kyle Durham runs a farm along the Missouri River, growing corn and soybeans with his father in Norborne — the self-proclaimed soybean capital of the world that hosts an annual Soybean Festival. It’s only fitting that such a community would be home for Durham, who serves as chairman of the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council.

Durham was elected to his second term during the board of directors summer meeting, securing a final one-year stint as the head of the council. His father and grandfather both served on the council in the past, making his involvement a family affair. 

“I’ve always kind of kept up with the soybean industry, and there have been several of our neighbors who have gotten involved,” Durham said. “One of the board members became term-limited several years ago, and I was asked by a couple of organizations if I would run for that position. Knowing the good work that Missouri Soybean has been doing on behalf of the farmers of the state, it didn’t take much to convince me to throw my name in the mix.”

Missouri Soybean promotes soybean use and innovation, drawing farmers like Durham to help spread the message about their product. Durham heads the 13-member Merchandising Council elected to oversee investments from the state’s soybean checkoff, a program where farmers contribute half of 1 percent of the sale price of their crop for education, research, and promotion.

Innovative projects approved by the council range from ice cream and pet food to biodiesel and tires. A proposal to research and develop soy-based golf balls — an effort to take soybeans to the greens — was among the projects approved by the council this year. Soy can also be used in roofing, shoes, cereal, and more, according to the council. 

Durham was first elected to chair the council last summer as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact daily life across the state. While his first year held unprecedented challenges and prevented some outreach and exhibition efforts, he said the council maintained its focus on innovation throughout the pandemic.

“T​​he past year has provided some challenges that we hadn’t seen before, but ultimately the focus of the council has been and will continue to be empowering growers across the state,” he said. “The council has prioritized innovation, so when we look at the world around us we really have had to be innovative over the last 18 months. We’ve focused on how we can deliver the programs our growers want and need and educating the public on what soybeans can do for them.”

Durham said a priority of his was the Center for Soy Innovation, a facility showcasing soy-based materials from flooring and insulation to biodiesel. The center opened in Jefferson City in March 2020, just before the pandemic drove the public indoors and shuttered most attractions. Durham hoped to encourage visitors now that vaccines are available and prioritized meeting with people around the state to maintain relationships and grow the soybean industry. 

“As we continue to navigate through this post-COVID world, we really want to be back meeting person-to-person with stakeholders from across the state,” he said. “That project was a vision to promote innovation in the soybean industry. We really want to get people through the center to see the exhibits and really understand how much soy impacts their daily lives.”

Durham praised the other members of the board and its staff as they continue to work on innovative ways to use soybeans, from the kitchen to the greens. 

“Soybean farmers in this state have a tremendous story to tell as stewards of the land and as people that want to continually improve our farms and our farming operations so that we can hand that down to the next generation in a better form than we inherited it from our predecessors,” he said.