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Five Minutes With… Illinois Soybean Association

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (August 2, 2022)

First image courtesy of Julio César García from Pixabay.

Founded in the mid-1960s, the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) now represents more than 43,000 soybean farmers across Illinois. The organization is tasked with checkoff funds management, market development and utilization efforts, while also supporting the government relations interests of Illinois soybean farmers at the local, state, and national level through the Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG). The group is clear on its mission to become a market leader in sustainable soybean production and profitability.

ISA is long since a supporter of HighQuest events, such the newly renamed Unconventional Ag conference, and the previously held Oilseed & Grain Trade Summit. This year, and for the sixth time, ISA is a proud sponsor of our Women in Agribusiness Summit, which will be held in Dallas, Texas, September 26-28.

WIA Today took a few minutes to speak with ISA’s new human resources manager, Nicole Butler, to get more details.

1). You are in your first year with ISA. Tell us about the transition into the ag sector, and the top three things you bring to the table for ISA, such as directing the association’s talent strategy?

Joining an organization that hasn’t had a formal human resources department can always be challenging and intimidating. My previous experience and exposure in manufacturing has armed me with strength and knowledge in the areas needed to build a strategic plan that will successfully direct the team while supporting Illinois soybean producers. This plan includes areas of excellence and innovation, moving outcomes forward while leveraging technology and employee satisfaction, deploying recruitment and retention strategies, employee development, and an overall employee experience through a culture of employee engagement, wellness, diversity, and inclusion. We believe focusing on these areas will allow us to continually invest in our team and build talent and commitment for the future.

2). Can you explain more about the programs and offerings, like the Soy Excellence Centers and HR supports, that are provided to ISA members?

The U.S. Soy and industry partners established Soy Excellence Centers (SECs) to build relationships with protein industry professionals in emerging markets providing professional development opportunities and resources. SEC was launched in Egypt three years ago and continues to be a success. This is just one of the many opportunities ISA offers to its members and staff. Professional development and continued education is at the forefront of our strategic plan.

3). ISA has had a reinvention of sorts lately. Can you please explain this, as well as some of the changes to come?

In 2020, ISA partnered with a new CEO – John Lumpe. Over the past two years, ISA has experienced a multitude of positive changes that include a complete revamp of direction and planning to ensure that we are delivering the most innovative advocacy, education, and research to our Illinois soy producers. In addition, we have been successful in cultivating an excellent company culture by developing relationships with our team and providing them with opportunities and dedicated support to help them succeed on a professional level. This summer alone, our team has grown by four members, and we are forecasting growth of 10 additional team members by end of 2023. Working at ISA doesn’t feel like work, it’s truly a passion for the people. We are building an employer brand like no other.

4). ISA just named the Top 20 under 40 winners. These are young farmers who are getting noticed in the sector. What are some of the highlights of their achievements, and how does ISA support these entrepreneurs?

For decades, the soybean checkoff has been investing farmer dollars to increase the demand and use of soybeans around the U.S. and the world. In Illinois – the leading soybean producing state in the U.S. – the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) invests funds every day on behalf of the 43,000 Illinois soybean farmers it represents. Through education, promotion, and research programs, ISA has helped increase the awareness of and demand for soy biodiesel, has helped expand Illinois’ animal agriculture industry, and has advanced Illinois infrastructure to move soybeans more efficiently within and beyond the state. In addition, production research that happens in Illinois, in part funded by ISA, has helped soybean farmers adapt their farming practices to reduce disease, manage pests, and increase yields. The soybean checkoff is an ideal demonstration of how farmers can work together to achieve great things.


Nicole Butler is human resources manager for the Illinois Soybean Association, a position she has held since January 2022. She is responsible for leading and directing the routine functions of the Human Resources (HR) program, including hiring and interviewing staff, administering background checks, salaries, benefits, and leave, and enforcing company policies and practices. She also acts as a coach and mentor for other positions in the organization, and works with the ISA leadership team to develop budgets, review project ideas, manage project and contract status working with an internal database.

Prior to this, she was human resources manager for Matcor Metal Fabrication in Morton, Illinois, and had served in HR manager and director positions at various Illinois businesses since 2007.


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