Editor, Top Producer
Missouri soybean grower Warren Stemme spent the day Tuesday readying for the Commodity Classic, his first as a member of the American Soybean Association's (ASA) board of directors. It may also be his last, as he finds himself in the cross fire of the latest soybean industry melee.
Stemme is an ASA director and a designated ASA delegate representing Missouri at this week's Commodity Classic in Grapevine, Texas. But he's also the vice president of the newly created U.S. Soybean Federation (USSF). The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) and the Missouri Soybean Association (MSA) formed USSF in January as an alternative policy group to ASA. ASA, the soybean policy group, and the United Soybean Board (USB), the national checkoff group, are in a bitter war of words since last December, when ASA called for an investigation into how checkoff dollars are being spent.
The affiliation with USSF makes Stemme ineligible for either ASA post, according to an ASA memo dated February 17, 2009. But Stemme has also received a letter from ASA dated February 3, 2009, confirming his eligibility as a voting delegate. When asked if he is still a member of ASA's board of directors, Stemme said, "I think so.”
"I'm going to attempt to be seated as a delegate; I am a member of ASA,” says Stemme, who farms in St. Louis County. "If they choose to enforce their rules to not seat me, I guess I won't be seated. At this point, it's unclear whether I'll be seated as a delegate or continue as a board member.”
No USSF members allowed
The February 17th memo, from Joe Steiner, ASA's corporate relations committee/credentials committee chair, announced the requirements for board member and voting delegate recognition at this week's meeting. Among the requirements is, as expected, that individuals must be members of ASA, grow soybeans and be selected by a state association that is affiliated with ASA.
There is, however, a new wrinkle. A new bylaw put forth by Steiner's committee states: "The individual may not be an officer or director of any other national soybean policy and national soybean advocacy organization that is not duly affiliated with ASA or that lobbies in direct conflict with ASA policy.” The credential requirements, says the memo, were drafted "under ASA Bylaws.”
Stemme's fellow Missourian Greg Sharpe is also among the people who may have to give up their seat. Sharpe, who is president of the MSA, and Bill Zurn, president of MSGA, responded jointly to the memo via e-mail and challenged the decision. Citing ASA bylaws, the two say the credentials committee does not have the authority to "modify, amend, or alter the requirements for ASA directors or voting delegates.”
Dale Ludwig, the executive director of MSA, says his group will not create a scene on Saturday, but they do want to make sure the voices of its members are heard, even those that are USSF board members or officers. "I find it really interesting that a group [ASA], which we're still a member of, which talks about how important it is to speak with one voice, is not interested in trying to make sure everybody is included in those discussions. If they don't want us there, we don't want to escalate the rift in the industry.”
Ludwig says Missouri will still be fully represented at the meeting, but it may have to be by alternate delegates. "We don't want to escalate the fight, but there needs to be a voice out there in support of the national checkoff. We will have our full representation there, but our best leaders will be sitting the back of the room. They won't be full participants of the full resolutions process.”
ASA President Johnny Dodson of Tennessee says the association's bylaws are very clear when it comes to who is seated and who is not seated as a delegate.
"Our bylaws say that you cannot be a participant if you belong to a duplicate exclusive soybean policy organization. The credentials committee is the membership committee and they looked at this and they voted on it two or three weeks ago. They have applied these rules to certification of the voting delegates.”
On Tuesday afternoon the ASA Web site
was not working, but the bylaws were recovered from a Google cache.
The page was as it appeared on February 2, 2009. (Scroll down to see specific bylaw articles that address association membership, voting delegates and board membership.)
On Saturday, Dodson says, Steiner will review the list of certified voting delegates to see if anyone listed as a voting delegate is a director or officer of USSF. If they are currently certified and they fall under the USSF banner, they will be decertified. Stemme received his confirmation letter of certification in a letter dated February 3, 2009.
The bylaws, as listed on the Google cache, do not mention specific requirements for individual members, but they do recognize conflicts for affiliated states. Section 2 of the bylaws prohibits duplicate membership by state associations affiliated with a competing association.
Regarding changes to the bylaws, the bylaws themselves say the amendments can be done by the board of directors.
Following are the articles outlining membership and qualifications to be a delegate and a board member:
ARTICLE I. MEMBERSHIP
Section 1. ACTIVE MEMBERSHIP.
Any person who is an actual producer of soybeans whether as owner, manager or operator may apply for active membership in the Association by completing an application form furnished by the Association and submitting the same to the Association, together with payment of the dues fixed by the Association. Such application shall be considered by the Board of Directors or by such person or persons designated by such board. If such application is granted, the applicant's name shall be entered on the Association's books as an active membership, and such member (or spouse) shall have full voting rights.
ARTICLE III. VOTING AT MEETINGS OF THE MEMBERS
Section 1. VOTING LIMITED TO DELEGATES.
Voting at meetings of the members of this Association shall be limited to duly elected delegates (or their alternates) from duly affiliated state soybean associations who are members (or members' spouses) of this Association and are actual producers of soybeans either as owners, managers or operators.
ARTICLE IV. BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Section 1. NUMBER OF DIRECTORS.
Representation on the ASA Board of Directors shall be based on Association membership. Each duly affiliated Soybean Association may elect its own member or members on the Board of Directors of this association.
(d) Only persons who are both members in this Association and actual producers of soybeans, either as farm operators, managers or producer-landlords, shall be eligible for election to the Board of Directors of this Association by any affiliated state soybean association.
ARTICLE XVI. AMENDMENTS
Section 1. PROCEDURE TO AMEND. These bylaws may be amended at any time by the Board of Directors.