When should a South Dakota soybean grower have an interest in how soybeans are grown in South Carolina?

Why would a grower in Ohio be concerned about soybean production in Missouri?

One answer to these questions can be explained in two words -- farm policy.

"When a soybean producer realizes that his or her profitability greatly depends upon the actions of many other people, that's when he or she most appreciates an opportunity to become involved," says Mark Berg, American Soybean Association (ASA) president.

Understanding the needs of others is critical to the unity of any organization, and that is the primary reason behind the Producer Information Exchange (PIE) Program sponsored by ASA and FMC Corp.

The program takes groups of soybean growers from different areas of the country and transports them to host states in other areas.

This year, participants from the southwestern Soybean Belt traveled to Ohio, and Southeastern growers went to South Dakota. Also, growers from northern parts of the growing area visited other farmers in Missouri and South Carolina.

In Ohio, a state with 11 million people, farmers are facing problems with urban sprawl -- problems that PIE visitors from Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma expect to see in the near future.

Kansan Kevin Compton says farmers in his state need to be aware of the challenges presented by increasing urbanization in rural areas and learn how to deal with them.

"I got several ideas on how some of the people here are handling urban sprawl," he says. "They've set up committees to look at zoning. We'll need to prepare for this."

Another program participant, Oklahoma grower Shane Replogole, says the trip made him think about how he handles soil drainage back home on his farm.

"I've never seen a field with tiles in it before," he says. "It's a whole new system to me. It's making me wonder if I'm doing something wrong."

Missouri's Terry Reimer was impressed with the way Ohio soybean growers are focusing on specialized products.

"I think they adapt more quickly to the niche markets," Reimer observes. "They have more variability here than we have in Missouri."

In addition to learning about Ohio's agriculture, Steve Alexander, also from Missouri, was interested in the practices of the Ohio Soybean Association.

"I'm interested to learn how the association does things," he says. "Hopefully, I can take some of that knowledge back to my state association."

Gordon Little hosted growers on his farm near Watertown, SD. The visitors, being from warmer climates, were surprised by some of the no-till challenges that Little faces due to the fact that the ground takes longer to warm below the thatch of residue.

Little described how various knife and planter-wheel settings were being tested to improve seed placement.

Mike Freeman from Martin, TN, had a difficult time imagining how Dick and John Minnaert of Madison, SD, could have such clean soybeans where they haven't applied chemicals for nearly 20 years.

"We walk the fields and pull 'em out by hand," says John Minnaert, who produces organically grown, food-quality beans on contract.

Ron Schmidt and Jim Biddle, growers from Nebraska and Illinois, respectively, were among the group who learned firsthand the difficulties South Carolina farmers have growing crops in what amounts to 6" of sand on top of clay.

Both Judy Klahn from Wisconsin, and South Dakota's Delbert Tschakert, remarked about the multitude of insect problems in the South.

"We in the Midwest don't have to deal with the amount of infestation South Carolina farmers face," says Klahn. "While we may apply pesticides once or twice a growing season, some of these farmers spray six to eight times a season."

At Clemson University, the group also got a firsthand look at how producer checkoff dollars are being used to fund soybean research to deal with issues such as these.

PIE participants like Gary Joachim from Minnesota and Pete Bardole from Iowa may have never seen how cotton or peanuts are grown.

"I didn't know that cotton blooms are pinkish red; I thought they were always white," remarks Joachim.

In southern Missouri, Chris Kummer from Kentucky was heard saying, "I can't believe how different it is here. I live only about a hundred miles away, and I never knew."

The delta soil typical in that area is alluvial. Water is only about 3' below the surface, so just about anything will grow if the season is long enough.

The knowledge gained by these farmers will help them better understand the diversity of soybean production and producers. That, in turn, will benefit them as industry leaders.

"There are a lot of differences between areas of the country," says Dave Hand, Ohio Soybean Association president.

"If we don't understand each area's unique problems, we won't know how to work out our differences in ASA. We have to work together as a unit," concludes Hand.