John Becherer has been the CEO of the United Soybean Board since 1995. The USB annually distributes more than $100 million to promote soybean use and develop new markets worldwide.
This article is the first in a series highlighting the 2014 recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The award honors mid-career alumni who have a record of outstanding accomplishments, have made significant contributions to their profession or society, and have exhibited high potential for professional growth.
The 11 honorees are John Becherer, Lynda M. Ciuffetti, Johann (Joe) R. Garwood, Anetra L. Harbor, Carl C. Kincaid, Donald J. Leopold, Maurício Antônio Lopes, Nicholas L. Rozzi, S. Richard Tolman, Geoffrey C. Waldbieser and Carla N. Yerkes. They will receive their awards Friday, March 7, during a public reception and convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom.
Since 1994, John Becherer, MS ’87, has served as the CEO of the United Soybean Board. The board consists of 70 soybean producers appointed by the U.S. secretary of agriculture who are charged with investing soybean checkoff funds to benefit U.S. soybean producers.
Becherer oversees the investment of USB’s $100 million annual checkoff funds used to develop international and domestic markets, find new soybean uses, conduct soybean production research, and implement communications activities. He also serves as a spokesperson for the board meeting with industry and government officials as well as soybean producers and agricultural groups.
A 2009 study determined the soybean checkoff has returned $6.40 in additional profits to U.S. soybean farmers for every dollar invested.
Becherer grew up on a farm in central Wisconsin. His position with the soybean board allows him to continue his careerlong interest in helping producers farm more profitably.
After managing a construction company in Milwaukee for 14 years, Becherer returned to school to pursue his master’s degree at Purdue. In West Lafayette, Becherer served as senior director of development and programs for the Conservation Technology Information Center , a clearinghouse for technological information on soil conservation.
In 2012, Becherer was named the Agribusiness Leader of the Year by the National Agri-Marketing Association.
Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? While I was involved either directly or indirectly with almost all of the ag econ professors during my time at Purdue, Dr. Otto Doering stands out to me for the wise counsel he provided. Additionally, the way Purdue and Dr. Doering taught and promoted critical thinking has been beneficial throughout my career.
What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? I’m looking forward to going back to the ag econ department to visit with the professors and students. The department is multinational in composition and reflects the global approach I am involved with in the soybean industry.
Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? I chose Purdue because Purdue chose me. I applied at several universities, and Purdue assured me that if I was serious about getting a master’s degree, they were ready and willing to help me achieve my goal.
Where was your favorite place on campus to study? The library at Krannert was my favorite place simply because I spent so much time there with people who had the same focus that I had.
What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? The interaction with the professors who constantly spurred my thought processes and challenged me to look at all sides of topics.
Were you a good student when you were at Purdue? I was an average student at Purdue. I went back to school when I was 35 years old to get my master’s degree. Having been out of school for 14 years before going back was a major hurdle for me to overcome. After two years, by the time I graduated from Purdue, I was a good student on average, based on the overall time spent getting my degree.
What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? What made it so difficult for you? Math for economists was my most difficult course at Purdue. After being out of school for 14 years, I felt like I had to almost start over with math at Purdue. By my second semester at Purdue, I was taking the graduate-level math for economists course and was overwhelmed. Thankfully, the doctoral student teaching the course was willing to assist me, and I became proficient enough to pass the course.
What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Who gave you the advice? Otto Doering told me he had a feeling I would be working with farmers after I got my degree and told me I needed to tell farmers what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear. As I look back, I feel the advice Dr. Doering gave me is good advice no matter who the audience is.
What is the best advice you have ever given? To whom did you give the advice? I have told many people that the most difficult thing I have ever done, for myself and my family, was to get my ag econ degree from Purdue. It was also the best thing I ever did. Based on that, I have encouraged people to take on difficult challenges because the rewards can be great.
Coming next: Lynda Ciuffetti, PhD '83
Read about other 2014 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.