American Soybean Association: Checkoff funds being mishandled

ST. LOUIS — The American Soybean Association is blasting the United Soybean Board, raising “serious ethical, legal, and financial allegations” about how farmer checkoff funds and program activities are being conducted.

Association President John Hoffman, a soybean producer from Waterloo, Iowa, said because of these significant allegations, the association is going to ask the U.S. Inspector General to investigate and audit the board.

The announcement came at the board’s regularly scheduled winter meeting in St. Louis Dec. 10. The petition was filed with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and the Inspector General of the USDA.

Improper spending

According to an association news release, allegations include the improper and wasteful expenditure of both checkoff and federal funds; potential evasion of mandated salary and administrative spending caps by United Soybean Board; conflicts of interests; use of checkoff funds for prohibited purposes; and wasteful and excessive spending by USB.

The United Soybean Board responded in a new release by saying the allegations are “categorically untrue.”

“If the USDA deems it necessary, USB welcomes a USDA Office of Inspector General audit of any and all of its operations, contractor operations and projects.”

The board is made up of 68 farmer-directors who oversee the investments of the soybean checkoff.

Export council involved

There are additional allegations concerning improper United Soybean Board oversight and tolerance of actions that have taken place at the U.S. Soybean Export Council, an entity created by the board and the association in October 2005.

These allegations include improper conduct by an export council employee at official functions; the firing of whistleblowers; improper employee relationships; contracting violations; management malfeasance and the inability of American Soybean Association directors serving on export council board to obtain an independent and objective investigation of the allegations.

“We are dealing with entities that are spending tens of millions per year in soybean farmer checkoff dollars and U.S. taxpayer funds,” Hoffman said. “As the policy organization that represents U.S. soybean farmers, it is ASA’s responsibility to ensure that the soybean checkoff, and other entities the checkoff has created, are operating in an accountable and transparent manner in the best interest of soybean farmers.”

It was the American Soybean Association and its state affiliates that developed the concept for national soybean checkoff in the late 1980s and then worked with Congress and USDA to establish the national soybean checkoff in 1990.

“ASA and its members believe that since federal taxpayer funds or the federally mandated checkoff funds comprise all of the operations of USB and USSEC, we are compelled to petition for an OIG investigation to ensure these allegations are examined in an unbiased and fair way, something that ASA has tried to do within the framework of USB and USSEC, but has been thwarted in so doing by USB Directors and their attorneys,” Hoffman said.

‘USB has failed.’

Hoffman said the association board believes the national soybean checkoff “is no longer responsive and accountable to soybean farmers.”

“The failure of USB leaders to take decisive action on these particular matters is indicative of how USB is no longer accountable and responsive to the very soybean farmers who are paying funds into the checkoff program.”

Checkoff background

During the national checkoff’s nearly two decades of operation, soybean farmers have paid $1.3 billion into the checkoff.

For more information about the soybean checkoff, see www.soybeancheckoff.com.

ASA has shared a summary of its concerns and allegations with state and national soybean leaders and key industry stakeholders.

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