Minnesota Soybean’s Youngerberg receives national honor

Edie Schmierbach The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Farm Forum

MANKATO, Minn. — Mike Youngerberg of North Mankato can sure talk soybeans when the little legumes are brought up in conversation.

Whether the topic is markets for soybean products or innovations in research, he’s ready to list examples.

He can easily describe how aquaculture uses proteins from the bean to feed fish, vehicle tires that are 10 percent soybean product, then go on to explain how Asia’s shortage of land ensures a steady demand for Minnesota’s growers.

And he’s ready to back up his words with statistics pertaining to the state.

“Our three biodiesel plants produce 75 million gallons,” Youngerberg said, then pointed out the success of Mankato’s soybean processors, ADM and CHS.

The longtime Minnesota Soybean Growers Association employee was at the ag expo in Mankato recently. He had just returned from Texas, where he received a national award at a conference in Fort Worth.

His enthusiasm and knowledge are likely factors behind the honor presented on Jan. 23 to Youngerberg by the National Biodiesel Board. He’s spent more than 30 years working on behalf of the state’s soybean farmers, most of it on biodiesel.

Since 1986, Youngerberg has worked to advance soybean industry priorities as a member of the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council and as a staff member with the growers association staff.

Minnesota Soybean Growers Association is a nonprofit, farmer-controlled membership organization. The council is the elected board of soybean producers from Minnesota who direct investments of the state’s checkoff dollars in programs designed to increase profitability to Minnesota soybean farmers.

The soybean advocate grew up on a dairy operation south of Smith’s Mill. His son now farms the family’s 52 acres, which includes bean fields.

Youngerberg is a Marine Corps veteran. After his military service and a stint in construction, he worked at a grain elevator near Janesville. That’s where a representative of the soybean association found him.

“He said they were looking for someone who could talk to the farmers,” Youngerberg said.

That recruitment paid off.

Youngerberg has played a critical role in Minnesota becoming one of the most proactive biodiesel states in the country.

In 2002, Minnesota passed landmark legislation requiring that diesel fuel sold in the state contain at least 2 percent biodiesel. The law was implemented Sept. 29, 2005, becoming the first state to require biodiesel blends. The program increased to B5 in May 2009, to B10 for the summer months in July 2014, and is scheduled to move to B20 on May 1.

Minnesota’s progressive biodiesel law has helped to grow an important industry for farmers and Minnesotans alike,” Minnesota Soybean CEO Tom Slunecka said.

“This didn’t just happen. It’s taken a lot of hard work. Mike’s played a big part. He’s always been our go-to guy,” Slunecka said.

Minnesota Soybean nominated Youngerberg for the national honor.

The state now boasts biodiesel plants near Brewster, Anoka and Albert Lea.

Youngerberg, 68, who serves as Minnesota Soybean’s director of product development and commercialization, was honored with the “Eye on Biodiesel” Impact Award. The national biodiesel honor is the first for a Minnesota Soybean employee. A lobbyist for the organization was the recipient in a previous year.

“I am honored and humbled by this award,” Youngerberg said.

“I don’t believe you can measure the success of biodiesel in Minnesota by one individual. The tireless efforts of our team of farmer leaders, lobbyists and staff have helped to ensure the adoption and growth of biodiesel in Minnesota.

“I am thankful I have been along for the journey.”