By DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press
Two longtime leaders of the Missouri Soybean Association are out of their jobs as part of an organizational shakeup following an audit of how the prominent agricultural group managed millions of dollars of merchandising fees paid by farmers.
Board members of the soybean organization declined to release the audit and, in interviews with The Associated Press this week, provided no specific reason for the staffing changes. But the ousted executives blamed their departure on an internal political squabble involving state and national leaders in the soybean industry.
Gone are Dale Ludwig, who served as executive director of the soybean association for more than 20 years, and the organization's field services manager, J.P. Dunn. Both resigned under pressure Dec. 19.
Their departures are notable because soybeans are a multi-billion-dollar business in Missouri, which ranked seventh nationally last year in soybean production. Missouri's soybean organization has been a national leader in developing soy-based fuel used in diesel vehicles. It's also a significant political player, making endorsements of state officials and contributions through a political action committee.
Ludwig said he was placed on paid administrative leave for about a month before his departure as an audit was underway at the behest of the United Soybean Board. The national board, created by a 1990 U.S. law, oversees about $180 million annually of "check-off" fees paid on all U.S. soybean sales to help promote the industry. Half of that money goes to the national group and half stays with state organizations.
Ludwig blamed his departure on pressure from national soybean leaders.
"This whole thing has some politics involved," he said.
Dunn, who also cited "internal politics," said he was asked to resign by the state soybean board.
"I did ask for an explanation and wasn't given one," Dunn said, adding that there was "no wrongdoing, no scandal or anything like that."
Both Dunn and Ludwig said they never were shown the audit. But Ludwig said concerns were raised during the auditing process about how the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council used its share of the farmers' check-off fees. Among other things, he said there was criticism for providing research money to private companies and for buying university laboratory equipment. The United Soybean Board's compliance manual states that it "strongly discourages the funding of equipment."
Ludwig said he also was accused of having a conflict of interest for investing in biodiesel facilities, which convert soybeans into fuel, while some of Missouri's merchandising funds were used to promote biodiesel. Dunn also is an investor in biodiesel businesses.