The American Soybean Association awarded Kenlon Johannes, CEO and commission administrator for the Kansas Soybean Association, its top award: the 2020 Pinnacle Award.


Johannes led soybean associations in Wisconsin and Missouri, and volunteered for the Nebraska Soybean Association, before becoming the leader of the Topeka-headquartered Kansas Soybean Association in 2001.


A farmer by birth and a teacher by trade, Johannes’ calm, down-to-earth and supportive manner led him to excel at helping farmers succeed. By believing in soybeans as a crop with strong potential, Johannes propelled research into soybean oil biodiesel, led soybean export opportunities and helped increase the commodity’s image.


“I saw the untapped potential of soybean oil,” Johannes said.


While in Missouri, Johannes led researchers and other leaders to examine the potential of biodiesel. This research helped cement soybeans as a useful commodity outside of animal and human consumption.


“We found out you remove the glycerin and it worked,” said Johannes, who became the first executive director of the National SoyDiesel Development Board, the precursor to the National Biodiesel Board.


Johannes learned from a neighboring farmer in Nebraska the saying, “Just try it,” and he has lived by that inspirational phrase throughout his life. Along with crediting his father CJ with patience, he also credits him with explaining farming basics.


Having grown up with cattle, hogs, sheep and crops, soybeans amongst them, Johannes decided early on soybeans were the bean of the future.


“It seemed to be the one that was the most exciting and diverse,” he said. “I liked its ability to be exported. It was the up-and-coming crop.”


Johannes enjoys helping farmers. He hopes they will become the leaders of the future and get involved. His advice — just try it.


“We’re getting smaller in numbers, but we need to have the strength,” Johannes said. "Get involved. Get energized. Know what’s going on.“


This industry leader said the future of soybeans is bright, even though everything, including this commodity, is affected by the coronavirus pandemic.


Just before COVID-19 closed down travel, Johannes visited Southeast Asia, teaching about the benefits of importing soybeans. From there, he was scheduled to fly to Africa but was forced to come back to the U.S.


“I’m always a positive person. I think Africa is our new outlet,” Johannes said. “The future is promising.”