Soy Task Force Calls for Industry Change

New group is headed by an Iowan who outlines objectives for soybean industry alignment and outcomes.

After nine months of study, input and refinement, an organization created to explore options on how best to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the national soybean organizations is recommending significant change in the way the two national soybean organizations are structured, how they operate and how they work together.

The Soybean Opportunities Task Force – SOTF - was created in March of 2007. The group is proposing a new industry alignment to ensure collaboration, coordination and communications between the United Soybean Board or USB and the American Soybean Association or ASA.

SOTF is comprised of farmers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina and Virginia. It was formed to gauge the success of the two national organizations related to the administration of soybean programs and to make recommendations for improvement. SOTF hired an independent research firm to explore and assess the issue with state and national soy industry leaders.

Many growers are dissatisfied

"Our research reveals that soybean farmers who have either been in leadership positions in the past, or who are currently serving on a state or national board, have concerns as to how our national organizations work together for our mutual interests. We give those organizations a "D" grade for cooperation, communication and collaboration," says Ray Gaesser, SOTF Chairman and soybean farmer from Corning, Iowa.

"More than $1 billion of check-off funding has been collected since the national check-off program began in 1991," he says. "Although there have been significant accomplishments, our task force believes that we can and must do even better in the future, especially given the new challenges of helping to fuel the world while we also continue to supply soybean meal and vegetable oil to a expanding world market. We've arrived at a plan to do just that."

They want to form "a new ASA"

As a primary strategy, SOTF proposes what it calls a "New ASA", an organization that serves to convene, represent and recommend strategies for funding and implementation. The group advocates bringing all parties to a common table, including national and state organizations, industry stakeholders, and soybean farmer leaders, through a Board of Delegates. The intended result is greater representation and stronger, more successful partnerships.

"We presented our research findings and our proposal for increased cooperation to both the USB and ASA boards this past spring," says Mark Seib, SOTF co-chair and a farmer from Poseyville, Indiana. "While we knew that some of our presentation was jarring, it was vital to the soybean industry for both groups to hear. Those presentations have had a stirring effect for short-term action including calls for increased joint executive board and committee meetings."

"Our proposal and our findings have also sparked other states to fund a study to evaluate the funding needs of our policy efforts," says Seib. "We know that some of our recommendations are uncomfortable for some current leaders. Change always is. However, all of our SOTF members firmly recognize structural change to our national organizations is vital to creating a proper industry alignment."

New group says changes are needed

Seib says SOTF is not looking to place blame and views the ASA as a natural place to start in seeking voluntary changes. Because ASA has traditionally represented the heritage of the farmer-based industry, and has broad volunteer representation and leadership with policy and future orientation, it offers a more responsive and immediate opportunity for change.

It is recognized that laying a proper foundation for effective and efficient structural change may require addressing USB's structure as well. Some proposed changes to USB governance might require revisions to the federal Act and Order, which established the national soybean check-off program in 1991.These revisions may not be needed if sufficient progress is made. However, SOTF will not make any decision related to such legislative revisions as those are outside the task force's charge.

Beyond the proposed Delegate Board for greater representation and shared industry agendas, SOTF also is calling for a single, efficient staffing model. Additionally, SOTF states that a strong, shared future as an industry requires vigorous farmer involvement to advance and engage in soy-related issues.

Will be discussed at Commodity Classic

"Ultimately, transparency, accountability and efficient, effective operations are necessary to deliver on the promise made to farmers when the check-off program began in 1991 and to meet the challenges the soybean industry faces in the years ahead," says Gaesser.

The SOTF group will seek support for its recommendations at ASA's delegate session at the Commodity Classic in Nashville, Tenn., in late February 2008.The goal is to have ASA appoint a task force to more fully flesh out the proposed changes and to initiate implementation of the "new ASA" by the end of 2008.

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