Past chairmen of the United Soybean Board, who are no longer affiliated with the group, have issued a response to the American Soybean Association's charges of misusing checkoff dollars. The following document is a copy of the letter this group has issued to the ag media and U.S. soybean farmers during the Commodity Classic in Grapevine, Texas.
February 26, 2009
Dear U.S. Soybean Farmers & Ag Media,
We're writing today as a group of past chairmen of the United Soybean Board (USB), but more importantly as farmers who can no longer keep quiet about what we are witnessing in the soybean industry.
Many of you have heard about the American Soybean Association's (ASA) petition to USDA requesting an audit of the soybean checkoff and USB, the organization with oversight of the national soybean checkoff program. You likely heard about this petition after a very negative and widespread media campaign launched by ASA. Unfortunately, USB has not been able to publicly respond because they have been under a virtual gag order by USDA.
Know that we each thought long and hard before sending this letter. We don't blame you if you find this entire situation frustrating – we do too. You want your soybean organizations to work together, but unfortunately ASA's actions have made that extremely difficult. Right now you've only heard ASA's side of the story and unless farmers like us speak up, that's all you'll hear.
In the attached document, we are providing you with the real facts that answer the allegations made by ASA against the soybean checkoff. Each of us has served as Chairman of the United Soybean Board and understands how the checkoff works for U.S. soybean farmers and, just as important, how the checkoff is not allowed to work. USB cannot fund policy programs, and while checkoff farmer-leaders have worked hard the past 17 years to support ASA, they cannot hand over checkoff funds to support lobbying efforts—it's simply not legal.
As you review the facts, we'd like you to keep the following questions in mind.
· With less than four months out for the Request for Referendum, is there time for the truth to come out and the questions be answered? Did ASA time this effort to coincide with the change in the White House administration and the Request for Referendum?
· If they were only interested in requesting an audit of the soybean checkoff, why did ASA launch an integrated public relations campaign, distributing press releases to hundreds of media, developing a dedicated website, producing professional videos and traveling all over the country to detail the allegations?
· Why was ASA not comfortable leaving the petition in the hands of USDA and waiting until the results of the review were complete before reaching out to farmers? How will ASA undo the damage already done to the credibility of the soybean checkoff if the audit turns up nothing?
· Who funded this public relations effort? Was the money taken away from policy efforts in Washington? How much money has been spent on this public relations effort discrediting the soybean checkoff?
· USB and ASA directors were meeting in the same hotel when the petition was submitted to USDA. Why did ASA directors not walk across the hall and notify USB of their concerns in advance of submitting the petition? USB found out about the petition at the same time the news release was distributed to media across the country.
· We've heard reports from ASA directors who participated in the December 9th session that the discussion and vote did not reflect the press release distributed on December 10th. What happened? Why were incoming ASA directors not allowed to be in the room for the discussion when retired leaders were? Why was a security guard needed at the locked door of the room?
· What is ASA's ultimate goal with their recent actions? Is it to open the Act & Order and potentially end the national soybean checkoff program? Does ASA plan to support the national soybean checkoff program in the upcoming Request for Referendum?
We hope you'll take the time to read the information we are providing and think about it carefully. Don't take what's happening lightly. Ask questions of us. Ask questions of ASA. Then make the decision that will benefit you and the rest of America's soybean farmers.
Greg Anderson (NE) Richard Borgsmiller (IL) David Durham (MO)
(402) 750-1961 (618) 303-1670 (660) 329-0415
Byron Lemoine (LA) Sandy Ludeman (MN) Doug Magnus (MN)
(318) 359-0800 (507) 626-0224 (507) 227-7216
Eric Niemann (KS) Harold Phillips (AL) Curt Raasch (IA)
(913) 370-2983 (256) 437-8482 (712) 830-2628
Jerry Slocum (MS)
The Answers to the Allegations
Provided by retired past chairmen of the United Soybean Board
- Alleged Wasteful Spending of Checkoff Dollars
Checkoff collections in 2008 totaled about $140 million, although half of those dollars went to work at the state level. It's hard to claim wasteful spending when you look at just a few of the accomplishments U.S. soybean farmers have achieved since our checkoff was created: doubling global demand for U.S. soy from 1.5 billion bushels to 3 billion bushels, tripling soybean exports to a record 1.5 billion bushels (whole beans, oil and meal) in 2008, creating new uses like soy biodiesel and soy foams that are now in Ford vehicles or just the simple fact that in 1990 farmgate value of soybeans was $10 billion and in 2008 it was $25 billion.
- Alleged Violations of Salary & Admin Caps
USB has stayed well within the salary cap established by the Act & Order. It's not uncommon for organizations to have contractor staff on-site to increase efficiencies. In fact, when ASA was a contractor for the soybean checkoff, they had two staff members located at the USB office and raised no concerns.
- Alleged Use of Checkoff Funds for Prohibited Purposes
ASA accuses past USB Chairman Criss Davis of giving a "highly policy-oriented speech” at the 2004 Farm Journal Forum. Criss's speech was focused on evolving markets and anticipating customer demands. At the end of his speech Criss clearly indicated he was taking off his USB hat and speaking as a farmer, giving some brief personal thoughts.
USB created several industry-wide organizations, including USSEC, QUALISOY and the Soy Nutrition Institute, inviting ASA to participate. Industry and checkoff dollars fund these organizations and, in some cases, ASA has been funded by industry to do advocacy work. This approach allows USB to leverage checkoff investments with industry investments and lets ASA and USB coordinate efforts. In fact, in 2008 alone USB leveraged $44 million in checkoff funds with $51 million in industry support. The concept is simple: coordination to benefit U.S. soybean farmers.
- Alleged Failure of USB to Take Corrective Action with USSEC
USSEC is a separate organization governed by a separate board of directors. USSEC was created after USB experienced growing concerns about the accountability, transparency and direction that ASA was taking as the international marketing contractor. We don't want to speak on behalf of the USSEC board of directors, but it is important to note that the industry-wide board of USSEC includes equal representation of ASA and USB leaders.
- Alleged Abuse of Authority
USB is required by USDA to provide oversight to state soybean boards through compliance reviews. To partner with states on these issues, USB funds a compliance coordinator who works with states before projects are funded, ensuring activities are in compliance with the Act & Order. USB strives to work in coordination with states, including: working with Illinois to promote farming at the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo, partnering with Iowa to fund the Soybean Meal Information Center, working with Nebraska and Lear Corp. to increase soy in polyurethanes for cars and partnering with Minnesota to host Chinese trade teams.
- Alleged Conflict of Interest with USB Accounting Contractor
USB contracts with an association management firm for domestic programs, a role that ASA previously held until growing concerns about strategic direction, accountability and transparency dictated a change. This firm's USB staff is housed in St. Louis. The same firm provides accounting services out of its Chicago office with a firewall that has been reviewed and approved by USDA.
- Apparent Excessive Spending on Self-Promotion, Self Perpetuation
ASA may be confusing marketing with self-promotion. While the USB Communications Committee does invest in producer communications activities as mandated by the Act & Order, the majority of communications projects are marketing efforts to increase soybean farmers' bottom line, such as driving biodiesel usage, expanding availability of new soy products and meeting customer demands for quality.
- Apparent Excessive Spending on Self-Preservation
Producer attitude surveys guide funding priorities and help USB understand what is important to individual farmers, like biodiesel availability or managing soybean rust. It's short-sighted to say that keeping a finger on the pulse of soybean farmers is not smart business when you are investing checkoff dollars on their behalf. Wouldn't it be a good idea for ASA to engage in similar research to better understand what policy issues are top of mind in the countryside?