ASA is quickly approaching its 100th anniversary of advocating for the American soy industry!
The American Soybean Association was founded in 1920. Soybean farmers and extension workers founded ASA in an effort to promote the crop and increase profit opportunities. After almost 100 years, the organization continues these important efforts.
Early soybeans presented farmers with production and marketing challenges. Gold, green, black, brown and mottled seeds grew on plants ranging from ground hugging vines to leggy stalks. Plants were difficult to harvest and pods shattered easily.
The small, uncertain supply made many processors unwilling to crush the beans. Feed manufacturers and customers were leery of using the soybean meal and cake in animal rations.
Through the American Soybean Association (ASA), early soybean farmers agreed that processors would underwrite the production of 50,000 acres at a guaranteed minimum price. With processors guaranteed a supply and farmers assured of a market, production increased.
By the 1930s, surpluses of wheat and cotton made soybeans an attractive cash crop. New processing methods created more acceptable meal and oil products and demand for edible fats and oils encouraged research on soybean oil for food uses. Soybean meal proved to be an important ingredient for balancing animal rations. Europe began importing American soybeans, and in 1936, the Chicago Board of Trade established a soybean futures contract.
In the early 1940s, the U.S. was importing 40 percent of its fats and oils when supplies were cut off by World War II. Soybean producers doubled production, and processors built plants to produce the oil. But, the end of the war brought surpluses. The U.S. and United Nations were shipping soy flour to Europe and Asia, but soybeans were not part of the government food aid plans. ASA launched legislative battles to remove barriers restricting the sale of margarine. Government efforts to reduce soybean production and rigidly restrict exports were opposed.
Two significant events highlighted the 1950s. In 1954, passage of the Food for Peace program made it possible for government and private groups to cooperate in funding market development through the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS). Two years later, ASA and FAS signed the first joint market development contracts for work in Europe and Japan, and ASA’s Tokyo’s office opened.
Soybean stocks became burdensome in the 1960s as production exceeded usage. High dependency on government and private industry for research and market development funding led farmers to initiate farmer-funded checkoff programs. By 1962, states began forming soybean associations affiliated with ASA to involve more farmers. ASA began funding research to find new uses for soybeans and reduce production costs. States affiliated with ASA resolved in 1968 to initiate work on state-by-state passage of legislation to enable first point of sale deduction of one-half to one cent per bushel. Farmer elected boards of soybean farmers would control funds for market development and research.
The 1970s saw creation of the American Soybean Association Market Development Foundation in 1975, melding the American Soybean Institute and a funding agency called the American Association Market Development Fund. The Foundation’s purpose was to receive farmer checkoff funds, review market development programs and budgets, authorize ASA to conduct these activities and pay for services provided by ASA. Then, in 1978, ASA established its World Headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1980, the American Soybean Association Market Development Foundation and the American Soybean Research Foundation were merged to become the American Soybean Development Foundation. New frontiers continued to emerge with hard work, and in 1984, ASA opened an office in Caracas to serve the South American market. This brought the number of ASA international offices to 11 including Brussels, Hamburg, Madrid, Mexico City, Peking, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, Tokyo and Vienna.
During the late 80s, ASA worked on a truth-in-labeling campaign to stop hidden use of highly saturated tropical fats in foods and increase market share for soybean oil. ASA asked the Food and Drug Administration to require food manufacturers to stop calling tropical fats “vegetable oils” and to put an end to “and/or” wording on food labels. The truth-in-labeling campaign was part of a new checkoff-funded initiative to expand domestic use of soybeans and soybean products.
Exports to the Soviet Union in 1988 increased from 2.5 million to 91 million bushels. Palm oil imports declined as U.S. consumers became more concerned about saturated fats in their diets, and soybean oil use increased. ASA promotions for soybean oil for dust control and for newspaper printing inks helped boost demand. Elsewhere, ASA launched major Targeted Export Assistance (TEA) promotions in Europe that greatly increased consumer awareness of soybean oil.
Bold new actions in 1989 by ASA farmer-leaders set the organization on a new course. After more than a year of study and discussion, ASA delegates approved a resolution to work toward a national soybean checkoff. Legislation to create the one-half of one percent checkoff for market promotion, research and industry education was introduced. Also in 1989, ASA introduced a new SoyMark, developed with funding provided by CIBA-GEIGY Corporation. Earlier in the year, ASA introduced a SoySeal developed by Monsanto Agricultural Company to mark industrial products such as soy-based inks and agricultural chemical carriers made with soybean oil.
By 1990, years of ASA market promotion in Eastern Europe and continuing efforts in the Soviet Union gave U.S. soybeans an advantage. With the collapse of Communism, Romania turned to ASA for help in ordering U.S. soybeans. In Western Europe, ASA used checkoff funds and TEA funds to implement a major consumer education campaign. European purchases of U.S. soybeans increased 22 percent. A General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Dispute Settlement Panel ruled in favor of U.S. soybean farmers stating that European oilseed subsidies are unfair competition and illegal under GATT rules. ASA initiated the complaint in 1987.
1991 was a big year: The national soybean checkoff started. The ASA Board authorized, and state checkoff boards funded, expanded promotion in the Soviet Union, including the opening of an office in Moscow. As authorized in the 1990 Farm Bill, the $5.02 non-recourse soybean marketing loan began.
Activities were funded by the national soybean checkoff through the United Soybean Board (USB), and flourished under the direction of ASA farmer-leaders and staff. ASA created a strategic plan to tackle changes brought about by the checkoff. ASA opened a new office in Cyprus. Market Promotion Program (MPP) funds (formerly TEA) were invested to increase demand for U.S. soybeans and products in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany, Venezuela and Mexico.
By 1993, ASA decided to contract with Gordley Associates to provide Washington representation. ASA worked as the primary contractor with USB to structure and carry out national soybean checkoff-supported programs in the U.S. and around the world. ASA continued as a major cooperator with the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) on international programs.
ASA became heavily involved with SoyDiesel on the legislative, research and development levels, and at Soybean EXPO ’93 in Denver, the ever-growing and evolving organization unveiled a new logo.
ASA was instrumental in 1994 in forming the American Oilseed Coalition.
That same year, Congress approved the Vegetable Ink Printing Act that requires the federal government to use vegetable-based inks in its printing operations where technically feasible and cost-competitive with petroleum-based inks, a decision on the heels of a USDA announcement in 1993 that required all printing ordered by USDA to employ ink derived from agricultural products.
In 1996, the first-ever Commodity Classic was hosted by ASA and the National Corn Growers Association in Phoenix, Arizona. Also that year, ASA and the U.S. Feed Grains Council jointly contracted for representation in Vietnam. And, ASA opened its Asia Subcontinent Office in New Delhi, India. The American Soybean Industry Council (ASIC), issued statements on the global acceptance of biotechnology and on the protection of intellectual properties. ASA issued Grower Advisories pertaining to import clearances for soybeans grown from genetically modified seed stock in major export markets.
In 1997, ASA and the National Biodiesel Board (NBB) obtained agreement from the Department of Energy to consider B-20 (a blend of 20 percent biodiesel made from vegetable oil and 80 percent petroleum diesel) as an approved alternative fuel.
Early in 1998, ASA participated in the White House Rose Garden ceremony during which President Bill Clinton signed into law the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act, approving funding for increased agricultural research funds, as well as crop insurance.
And, by fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave initial approval to allow health claim labels on products containing soybean protein based on data contained in a petition presented by Protein Technologies International, Inc., and a follow-up petition filed by ASA. Approval by FDA of evidence that including soy protein in a healthy diet reduces serum cholesterol and may reduce the chance of heart disease would encourage consumers around the world to seek foods labeled as containing soy protein. That rule was approved in 1999.
In 1998, ASA formally opened its 14th international marketing office in Istanbul, Turkey, to increase demand for U.S. soybeans and products in the Middle East.
In November 1999, U.S. and Chinese negotiators completed bilateral talks on China’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The agreement that U.S. trade negotiators reached with China included significant opportunities to expand market access that ASA has worked toward for years. According to U.S. government sources, the ongoing WTO accession negotiations include assurances that would formalize access to the Chinese market — the largest growth market for soy in the 21st century.