John Hoffman, a soybean grower from Waterloo, Iowa and the current president of the American Soybean Association, has announced a new ASA membership campaign. But it's more than just a drive to sign up new members, he says. The purpose is to grow the organization's grassroots by making sure ASA members understand the distinct differences between the national soybean checkoff and ASA's activities and responsibilities.
The reason ASA is embarking on this new education and membership campaign is because of the results of a new survey of U.S. soybean growers. The survey indicates soybean producers support ASA initiatives. But the results also show that a significant number of growers are unclear about the differences between the national soybean checkoff - which is administered by the United Soybean Board - and ASA's function as a membership organization.
In the recent survey, 80% of the soybean producers who were polled say they believe that policy development, like working with legislators and regulators on issues surrounding biodiesel and the farm bill, is important to their future success. These are indeed the types of programs that are carried out by ASA.
Survey finds confusion among growers
The survey also showed that more than 80% of growers correctly believe ASA works with regulators, legislators and international policymakers on biodiesel, the farm bill, expanding export opportunities and developing farm programs. Those are also ASA programs and functions. However, the survey does find some confusion among growers.
"The survey demonstrates that soybean producers understand many of the important functions ASA does on a daily basis," says Hoffman. "However, the survey also pointed out some misconceptions that we have begun to focus on as part of our membership campaign that kicks off this month."
For example, 22% of growers believe ASA's funding is solely from the soybean checkoff, while an additional 63% of growers believe ASA is funded by the checkoff and membership dues. But that is not how ASA is funded. Lobbying and policy work are funded by membership dues - not the checkoff.
"The reality is, ASA's policy work is funded by its dues-paying members," says Rob Joslin, chair of ASA's Membership Committee and a soybean grower from Sidney, Ohio. "Policy development and lobbying cannot be funded by soybean checkoff dollars. Strong membership support for ASA and the state soybean associations is critical to our work on behalf of U.S. soybean farmers."
Hoffman adds, "While the law prevents soybean checkoff dollars from being used to fund policy work and lobbying, ASA, as a voluntary dues-paying membership organization can, and does, do those things on behalf of soybean farmers.
Both ASA and checkoff are important
"It is important to recognize that both ASA and the soybean checkoff provide vital contributions to strengthening and growing the soybean industry," Hoffman says. "For example, the checkoff funded the research to conduct tests on biodiesel, and then ASA worked with Congress to create the federal biodiesel tax incentive that has created a growing market for biodiesel. The work of both ASA and the checkoff has been key to the success of biodiesel. We want soybean farmers to understand the importance of providing their voluntary support to ASA."
Since the survey shows some confusion among soybean growers regarding the differences between ASA and the soybean checkoff, ASA has launched a campaign that explains the difference and encourages soybean farmers to join their state soybean association, which includes membership in ASA.
"Membership is our lifeblood, which enables our work on Capitol Hill to be successful," says Joslin. "We're using this campaign to tell soybean farmers that if they believe in the importance of sticking together, working on Capitol Hill, promoting trade and ensuring federal support for biodiesel, then it is important to belong to ASA, because that's the work we do."
Campaign urges farmers to belong to ASA
ASA's education and membership campaign is broad and includes direct mail, print and radio ads, and personal contact across the country. The campaign theme "If You Believe, Belong" emphasizes that soybean growers believe the work ASA does is important, and, therefore, they should become a member if they are not already.
"This campaign is important not only for ASA but for each state association," says Bob Cole, membership chair of the Iowa Soybean Association and a grower from Fayette, Iowa. "State associations do the important work at the local level, monitoring and commenting on state legislation and communicating important information to growers. We also participate in policy discussions in Washington, D.C., and make personal contact with members of Congress. I'd like to see all soybean growers join the Iowa Soybean Association, which automatically makes them members of ASA. It's important for our grassroots voice to be heard."
ASA's education and membership campaign, which continues through this year, was made possible by a grant from Monsanto Co.