FormerASApresidentrespondst.cfm Former ASA president responds to checkoff letter
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Former ASA president responds to checkoff letter

Like many soybean producers around the country, I have been reading commentary in recent months from individuals regarding the soybean checkoff and the ongoing investigation by the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG). While my initial reaction was to remain silent and avoid a "tit-for-tat" dialogue, I now feel compelled to respond to comments by Greg Anderson (Page 4-B, March 30). I served as president of the American Soybean Association (ASA) seven years ago, and after serving nearly 20 years in state and national leadership in soybean policy, I believe that I have a clear picture of how this drama has unfolded.

The soybean checkoff does have the support of roughly 70 percent of producers, but what Mr. Anderson failed to mention was that support among members of ASA, those most attuned to soybean issues and the most aware of the checkoff, is closer to 80 percent, the highest of any group it surveys. ASA and its members have always supported the soybean checkoff, a program that was initiated and shepherded through the legislative process by ASA. That support does not mean, however, that you turn a blind eye when issues or incidents arise that warrant action. Contrary to Mr. Anderson's assertion, ASA has attempted to communicate these concerns to the soybean checkoff's United Soybean Board (USB) for years. I, and leaders before and after, have continually been rebuffed whenever concerns were aired. I admire the conviction and courage of the current ASA Board and its leaders in requesting an investigation. I believe that many of the allegations fit the pattern of behavior that I witnessed and are therefore worthy of scrutiny.

Mr. Anderson's disingenuous and flawed analogy--comparing the request for an OIG audit and investigation of USB to one farmer calling out a neighbor because he didn't like the way the neighbor conducts his business--contains more than one glaring omission. Chief among them is that the farmer in question is farming with and spending his neighbor's money! Soybean producers across the nation have .5 percent of the value of their soybeans mandatorily collected when they sell their crop. Half of this money goes to USB, with the other half going to state checkoff boards. As a producer, you should expect to have your checkoff invested and accounted for in a very transparent way. Significant questions about some of USB's actions have been raised. So, as a producer who funds the checkoff program, you should expect a full accounting of how your money is being spent. You should also have questions clearly answered--answers not even USB directors have always been able to obtain. That's why the OIG audit and investigation was called for, and that's why it is needed.

The soybean checkoff has had a considerable role in demand building, but to read Mr. Anderson's commentary you would come away with the impression that USB has single-handedly created every thing that is good and right in soybean land. There are so many other valuable industry partners, that to omit them only serves to reinforce the notion that self-preservation is the main priority of USB. In the case of biodiesel, USB did provide much of the funding for engine testing and fuel certification, but I was in the room in February 2000 when ASA and the soybean industry made the decision to pursue federal policy that established tax incentives for soybean biodiesel. Without the policy support, and the incentives that ultimately resulted, the biodiesel industry would not be the maturing fuel supplier that it is today. The federal biodiesel legislation championed and obtained by ASA, with the help of state soybean associations, the National Biodiesel Board and our allies, has delivered over $1.5 billion in incentives that have made biodiesel competitive with petroleum diesel. Without the existence of biodiesel legislation, biodiesel sales in 2008 would have been just a few hundred thousand gallons rather than 700 million gallons. Through our successful policy efforts, we've created jobs, reduced our nation's dependence on foreign oil, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and boosted soybean prices considerably.

For Mr. Anderson to assert that ASA has launched a media war against the checkoff is laughable, at best. ASA supports the checkoff itself; it's just some of the actions taken by those administering the checkoff that have caused concern. And if memory serves, I recall a press release from ASA when the affidavit was filed in December and another when the Secretary of Agriculture announced his intention to begin an OIG investigation. This hardly constitutes an assault on USB or its directors. Without continual cries of outrage from former USB leaders, the issue would have quickly faded to the back pages, awaiting the conclusion of the investigation. The attacks on ASA by former USB leaders are certainly a very odd tactic for a party who feels wrongly accused. Generally, innocent parties tend to let the investigation run its course and await exoneration.

Further, raising the media interest is the misguided effort to launch an alternative soybean policy organization in retribution for ASA's call for an audit and investigation of USB actions. This effort by USB sympathizers and former USB leaders like Mr. Anderson is counterproductive. We need an effective and respected organization like ASA to complement the checkoff investments that farmers make in their industry. Without enabling policy to foster an environment where profit is possible, checkoff programs are ineffective. This new organization, which I fear will simply be a policy extension for USB (which is unlawful), doesn't give much comfort that proper questioning of USB's actions and expenditures of your money would be a function of their operation. Before one moves to a system of cronyism and self-regulation, you should probably look at Wall Street and see how that worked out for investors and the American taxpayer.

--Bart Ruth, Nebraska soybean producer and ASA president 2001/2002


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