Editor, Top Producer
A major point of contention that has been building between the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the United Soybean Board (USB) is the continued media campaign since ASA's call for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to conduct an investigation of USB activities. That decision was announced on December 10, 2008, and a media firestorm has ravaged ever since.
On Tuesday afternoon, in an exclusive interview with TOP PRODUCER, ASA President Johnny Dodson said the executive committee did its due diligence and tried to address the specific issues with USB, but he felt they couldn't get anywhere. That is why the announcement was made with relatively little notice to USB or the industry and most of the industry found out about it through a press announcement.
The ensuing media campaign has been a driving force behind the Missouri and Minnesota soy growers associations starting the new U.S. Soybean Federation. Dodson admitted ASA has hired an outside contractor to help with its communications activities, but he could not remember the name of the company. Total spending for the program, Dodson said, is less than $25,000. When asked for the name of the communications agency and the amount spent on the campaign, ASA Communications Director Bob Callanan said, "No comment,” and did not elaborate.
Dale Ludwig, the executive director of the Missouri Soybean Association, lists among the four goals for USSF giving the national checkoff voice while the investigation continues. "No. 1: We support the current national checkoff. No. 2: We believe the policy group has to work closely, side by side, in lockstep with the national checkoff group in order to be most successful. All you have to do is look at a number of states who do that very effectively. It's those states that make dramatic differences compared to states where you have a checkoff group that doesn't work very well with the policy group.
"No. 3: We want to make sure we're inclusive, that every state is engaged. So we are bringing our influence to the table to help all soybean farmers across the country. No. 4: We have to have total transparency of any checkoff program. If people have questions, they should have them answered. If people want an audit or an investigation, they should be able to ask for it. We just don't think it should be played out in the media.”
Better kept in the family
The media campaign is something that also bothers Illinois Soybean Association Chairman David Hartke. However, his organization is choosing to stand behind ASA as the national policy organization.
"My personal thoughts are that it shouldn't have gotten into the media like it did,” Hartke says. "On the other hand, I've had ASA directors tell me that if it didn't get into the public like it did, they don't feel the investigation ever would have happened.”
Warren Stemme, who is on both sides of the argument as an ASA board member but also the vice president of USSF, says the federation was started to bring a voice of support to the national checkoff and he wonders if the industry divisions that have deepened since December can be repaired.
"It's been brought to a head now,” he says. "We didn't have a problem with the audit; we think transparency is a good thing. But the continued media blitz is very disturbing. It's our feeling it would be best to allow the audit to occur and see what the recommendations from OIG and the USDA Secretary are and proceed from there.”
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