Spill the Beans recap: Speaking up for America’s soybean farmers

A lot has changed at the American Soybean Association in the past year. ASA has withstood a once-in-a-century pandemic, helping to advocate for critical relief to producers when it was needed most. The organization established a new five-member lobbying team in Washington, D.C. A trade deal with China boosted soy exports back to record levels. Minnesota farmer Bill Gordon served a year as president before moving to chairman, and Steve Censky returned as CEO following three years as USDA deputy secretary.

Yet, as ASA begins its second century of advocacy, the mission remains the same.

“(ASA) is the grassroots policy arm of the U.S. soybean farmer and the soybean industry,” Gordon said during the sixth episode of the Spill the Beans. “We represent soybean farmers domestically and internationally.”

ASA supports 26 state affiliates, including the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association – the first state organization to join ASA – and represents America’s more than 300,000 soybean farmers. Five Minnesotans serve on ASA’s board: Gordon, George Goblish (Governing Committee), Chris Hill, Jim Kukowski and Joel Schreurs.

Gordon outlined ASA’s key priorities for 2021, as the organization begins working with a new Congress and presidential administration. Improving and stabilizing the farm economy during the ongoing pandemic topped the list of policy priorities, followed by trade, infrastructure, biodiesel and conservation.

“The farm economy encompasses all that we do,” Gordon said, adding, “Biodiesel is important and it will always be important to us.”

The transition

Following Joe Biden’s presidential win, ASA penned a seven-page letter to the incoming administration highlighting ASA’s goals for the years ahead. ASA also met with the outgoing Trump administration and USDA officials. In late February, the Senate confirmed Tom Vilsack’s return to the USDA.

“At USDA, it’s really a lot closer to nonpartisan working for the greater good of agriculture,” Gordon said.

Censky said the organization is working with new members of Congress, including new House Ag Committee Chair David Scott, who replaced Collin Peterson after the longtime Minnesota congressman’s defeat.

“We’re working with members to help them understand our issues,” said Censky, who returned to ASA in November 2020.

Censky said ASA had a “good conversation” with Michael Regan, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Censky said ASA will be advocating against “one-size-fits-all” approach to climate change.

“He reached out earlier after he was nominated,” Censky said. “We discussed the importance of biodiesel, and we really need some much better administration of the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

On the trade front, ASA, through conversations with U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai, is urging the Biden administration to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and uphold the Phase One trade deal with China.

“I stressed the importance of open markets as well as new trade agreements,” Censky said. “Those new markets provide opportunities.”

ASA is holding virtual Hill Visits on March 18, and Minnesota farmers will be visiting with their representatives and senators. ASA is hoping to resume in-person visits with legislators as soon as this summer.

“Your MSGA membership isn’t just going toward MSGA,” Executive Director Joe Smentek said. “It’s (to) ASA as well.”

Leaders from ASA and the United Soybean Board joined the last half of the webinar to highlight how both organizations share similar missions despite their different roles (checkoff funds can’t be used for lobbying purposes).

“We all work on behalf of the U.S. soybean farmer … through demand, supply and marketplace,” said Blair Shipp, ASA’s state policy communications coordinator.

Next week’s webinar is the seventh and final episode of Spill the Beans. All sponsorship proceeds from the Spill the Beans benefit MSGA’s advocacy efforts in St. Paul and Washington, D.C. Register today to attend the webinar for a chance to win a gift card. Each episode also airs live on MSGA’s Facebook page.

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