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Five Minutes with Illinois Soybean Association’s Trade & Export Manager Eileen Urish

By DeAnna Thomas, Illinois Soybean Association (October 4, 2022)

As trade and exports manager for the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA), Eileen Urish works to increase the engagement of ISA in the trade and export space by collaborating with farmers, exporters, foreign consulates, soybean buyer teams, and partner organizations. She acts as staff lead for foreign trade teams coming to Illinois and managing the relationship with the ISA team and external organizations also involved with the trade teams; she collaborates with the internal Market Development team, communications team, and ISA contractors to manage ISA’s trade and exports program; and works with the director of Market Development to manage ISA’s relationship with international trade partners including USSEC, USAPEEC, USMEF, and others.

Urish earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture Consumer Economics, Policy International Trade and Development from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She also earned a minor in Food and Agribusiness Management.

In her former role as project manager for the Illinois Pork Producers Association, Urish coordinated association sponsored events with lead staff throughout the year, specifically the Illinois Pork Expo. She assisted the executive director with legislative issues and Political Action Committee Outreach, oversaw the Employee Betterment Initiative and Community Co-op funding programs, and collaborated with the director of Membership to coordinate the annual membership drive and address member concerns.

1). Eileen, the Illinois Soybean Association has had a busy year traveling to trade missions on behalf of Illinois soybean farmers. You recently returned from a trip to Egypt, give us the highlights!

ISA supports various programs around the globe that increase awareness about U.S. soy imports and processing. Specifically, we fund the Soy Excellence Centers (SEC), which are found in five different regions, one being the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The SECs purpose is to:

  1. Improve the health and nutrition of local communities in budding markets by building capacity and the market potential of businesses in the food and agricultural supply chain.

  2. Provide professional development training and course curriculum to help individuals advance their career and take pride in the services they provide and the expertise they deliver on the job.

  3. Facilitate food and agribusiness company employee trainings and workshops (workforce education) that can help to overcome key inefficiencies, challenges, and operational agribusiness hurdles in operations of many sizes across the region.

  4. Share an understanding of the uses and applications of soybeans, which have multiple demonstrated benefits, to help facilitate the supply of high-quality protein sources.

  • Since the inspection of the program in 2019, the Middle Eastern North Africa (MENA) region, there have been over 4,000 participants and 67 courses created in poultry and aquaculture.

2). We know August was a busy month as ISA hosted international trade teams as they returned to the U.S. Please share more details about this.

Before the pandemic, we hosted over 35 trade teams in a year. We are already experiencing an increase in visitors in the past two years. In August, we saw a large demand for farm visits due to Soy Connect, which is a buyer conference hosted by the United Soybean Export Council (USSEC) that we partner with. Our goal is to educate buyers around the world to continue driving the demand for soybean exports.

3). Why do so many international agriculturalists want to visit Illinois soybean farms versus other states?

More than 60 percent of Illinois soybeans are exported, and that is why we are excited to highlight Illinois soybean farms and farmers to the visiting international trade teams. We had an August packed full of teams from Taiwan, India, and the European Union who visited various grain elevators and farms.

Let me elaborate more on the importance and excitement of having these trade teams back:

  • Illinois Soybean Growers values trade agreements that open markets, reduce/eliminate trade barriers, and encourages world support for trade.

  • Illinois Soybean Growers supports working with the administration to find ways to reduce our trade deficit by increasing competitiveness and gaining access to international markets.

  • Hosting trade teams and taking trade missions are part of ongoing market expansion efforts. The more relationships we can build with buyers and the better our farmers understand the requirements of these buyers, the more effectively we are able to compete.

Buyers visit from all regions of the world:

  • Buyers from around the world provide diversity to U.S. soy exports.

  • China purchases 25 percent of Illinois soybeans.

  • Mexico is a top destination for soybeans, pork, and poultry.

  • Taiwan and Indonesia are a key market for containerized soybeans.

4). What is the most rewarding part of your work with ISA?

Working at ISA is truly my dream role; I work with and for farmers each day. I have always been passionate about where our product goes after it leaves the farm and how it can be used in solving global food insecurity. ISA supports the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) Soy Excellence Center (SEC) task force.

In my role, I manage our affiliation with the SECs, which work to improve the health and nutrition of local communities in budding markets by building capacity and the market potential of businesses in the food and agricultural supply chain.

5). What advice would you give to young women pursuing a career in the ag industry?

My advice for a young woman in ag would be simply… the only person standing in your way is yourself – you can do anything you put your mind to. I would tell anyone this, but ag touches so many parts of our life from clothing to food on our table to the fuel we put in our cars. There is something for everyone, and you will find your passion.

6.) And how can folks contact you to learn more?

Email me at or visit us online at

About the Illinois Soybean Association

The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) checkoff and membership programs represent more than 43,000 soybean farmers in Illinois. The checkoff funds market development and utilization efforts while the membership program supports the government relations interests of Illinois soybean farmers at the local, state, and national level, through the Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG). ISA upholds the interests of Illinois soybean producers through promotion, advocacy, and education with the vision of becoming a market leader in sustainable soybean production and profitability. For more information, visit the website and


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