USDA to delve into soybean allegations

ST. LOUIS — The USDA plans to audit and, as appropriate, investigate the National Soybean Checkoff Program, according to the American Soybean Association.

The decision is based on the petition filed by the American Soybean Association Dec. 10, 2008.

The association’s petition calls for an investigation of the United Soybean Board and the U.S. Soybean Export Council to ensure soybean checkoff dollars are being managed and invested as prescribed by law. (A .pdf file of the petition is on the association’s Web site.)

Following a careful review of the allegations and evidence, the association board of directors voted unanimously Dec. 9, to petition the secretary of agriculture and the Inspector General of USDA requesting a full and impartial investigation.

Serious allegations

The allegations of abuse are serious and include:

– Use of a knife against another individual by an employee at an official function;

– An improper sexual relationship disrupting the management of the Japan foreign office and jeopardizing U.S. soy exports to that market;

– The misuse of checkoff and federal funds to facilitate the improper relationship;

– No-bid contracting violations;

– A one-sided investigation and white-washing of these actions;

– The firing of whistleblower employees;

– Conflicts of interest;

– Potential evasions of salary and administrative caps established in the national soybean checkoff act;

– Improper and wasteful expenditure of checkoff funds.

Association First Vice President Rob Joslin, a soybean producer from Sidney, Ohio, said ignoring these allegations of abuse “or sweeping them under the rug would have been wrong and would have done a disservice to all soybean farmers who are paying into the checkoff.

“Investigating any problem areas is the right thing to do for U.S. soybean farmers so we will have a more responsive and accountable soybean checkoff as a result.”

A process will be established by the Inspector General’s office on how the audit and investigation will go forward.

“The filing of the petition was not about any disagreements that the ASA may have with the USB,” said American Soybean Association President Johnny Dodson. “There are good-intentioned people, soybean farmers just like me, serving on the USB board, but somehow there has been a breakdown in the system that cannot be allowed to continue.

“In light of the serious allegations and concerns that have come to light, conducting an independent audit and investigation is the right thing to do and this is what U.S. soybean farmers expect.”

Related Story:
Fighting continues: Farmers start new soybean group

MANKATO, Minn. — Lance Peterson, a soybean farmer from Underwood, Minn., thinks the American Soybean Association is taking growers down the wrong path, so he helped found the new U.S. Soybean Federation to take its place.

The new organization was announced by founding farmer-leaders Jan. 9.

Peterson, president of the newly formed group, said actions by the American Soybean Association have triggered the need for this new organization.

“It’s clear to us that ASA’s continuing actions are not in the best interest of soybean farmers, as ASA is jeopardizing the national soybean checkoff,” Peterson said.

“We need an organization like USSF that will have no other focus than to fairly, vigorously and effectively represent the voice of all U.S. soybean farmers in the federal legislative process.”

Disappointed

In return, the American Soybean Association said it was disappointed at the news, saying “a few disgruntled checkoff and state leaders have formed a new soybean federation in an attempt to distract the U.S. soybean industry and undermine ASA’s efforts calling for an audit and investigation of the national soybean checkoff.”

“The action proposed by a few farmers to establish a soybean federation is a radical and ill-conceived move,” said association President Johnny Dodson, a soybean producer from Halls, Tenn.

“It is truly unfortunate that some checkoff and state leaders feel so threatened by ASA’s efforts to have an impartial investigation to find out the truth about national soybean checkoff operations that they are willing to go to such lengths.”

The new federation’s founding organizations are the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Missouri Soybean Association.

About the new federation

The new U.S. Soybean Federation will be comprised primarily of existing state soybean associations or new state soybean federations. It will not serve as a member organization, but instead be a coordinating entity to ensure a focused representation of U.S. soybean farmers on Capitol Hill.

The organization’s offices will be eventually located in Washington, DC, and the board of directors plans to contract with a farm lobbyist to serve as the CEO.

Officers are: president, Lance Peterson; vice president, Warren Stemme, a soybean farmer from Chesterfield, Mo.; and secretary/treasurer, Jerry Slocum, a soybean farmer from Coldwater, Miss.

The federation’s operating budget will come from affiliated state soybean organizations and industry support. When a state’s organization affiliation is accepted, that state will be allowed 10 farmer-delegates. Individual states will determine their delegates. Of those farmer-delegates, three will become directors of the board.

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