May 12, 2023
By Randy Barrett
Volunteer farmer representatives work year-round to represent the realities of growing soybeans to Washington policymakers. Those American Soybean Association board members—some 60 growers from throughout the soy states—are each assigned to one of ASA’s five “advocacy teams,” key groups broken out by major policy topics that work to protect those interests for soy.
ASA advocacy team grower leaders and staff leads have their work cut out in 2023 with the new farm bill, but many other pressing issues will potentially affect agriculture in the months ahead.
Here, we talk with the five AT chairs on some of the big topics they see ahead for the soy industry in 2023.
Ronnie Russell, ASA Farm Policy Advocacy Team Chair
Ronnie Russell farms 1,700 acres in west central Missouri. As chair of the Farm Policy team, Russell wants to make sure D.C. decisionmakers understand the importance of soy in the larger picture of feeding America—and the world. “We believe this is beyond the farm bill; it’s a food security issue.” American soy farmers generated $59.2 billion from the 2021 crop, and more than half of that crop was exported.
Russell is adamant that soy farmers need a dependable safety net. “Sometimes worldwide dynamics affect the future of food security, including the farm safety net,” he says. During the trade war with China that began in 2018, U.S. agriculture endured significant market impacts, which unfortunately revealed gaps in the farm safety net.
Russell would like to see significant improvements to the Title I farm safety net for soy to improve effectiveness of the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs. Soy growers are calling for an increase in the soy reference price in combination with a voluntary option to update base acres upon which ARC and PLC are paid. “ASA’s farm bill survey and listening sessions showed the interest that soy growers have in a more meaningful Title I farm safety net, as well as the need to protect crop insurance,” he says. “Crop insurance is the most important risk management tool that we have, and it has to remain affordable and accessible.”
Pam Snelson, ASA Conservation & Precision Ag Advocacy Team Chair
Pam Snelson, chair of the Conservation and Precision Ag Advocacy Team, farms around 5,000 acres in northeast Oklahoma and southeast Kansas. Top on her list is access to precision agriculture tools and technology, including right-to-repair rules for the modern farm equipment that enables precision ag. The easy-to-fix Allis-Chalmers tractors of yesteryear have given way to high-tech planters and combines.
"Complex repairs can require a dealership tech, but others we can manage successfully ourselves, given that ability,” Snelson says. But mechanics often can't get out quickly, which means operations grind to a halt. After a good deal of pushing, equipment manufacturers are starting to let farmers repair their own machines. "For small things, that's what we want in order to operate efficiently, and then we can leave the larger issues in the dealer's hands," she says. Another important issue is data privacy and security for farmers, with Snelson emphasizing nonpublic disclosure of individual producer data.
Snelson wants to see better access for farmers to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), all of which are included in the farm bill. These voluntary schemes promote cover crops, soil improvement and sustainability, and they help promote wildlife habitat. Snelson and soy growers are also seeking appropriations support to help fully staff Farm Service Agency offices and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has branches around the country. "They are currently very short staffed," she says, which impacts farmers.
Also in the mix for 2023 is a continued effort to limit the way the government applies the Clean Water Act to farms. Snelson says the current Waters of the U.S. run-off rules are too strict and overreaching, which can place unnecessary burdens on producers. "The way it is written, navigable waters can be streams on your property."
Monte Peterson, ASA Trade Policy & International Affairs Advocacy Team Chair
“There’s always a concern because of the political climate on trade,” says Monte Peterson, chair of the Trade Policy and International Affairs team. He explains that, despite the current frostiness between Beijing and Washington, China remains U.S. soy farmers’ biggest customer. “We want to continue to trade with them.”
The Valley City, North Dakota, farmer is keeping an eye on the big picture in 2023. “We continue to monitor market issues around the world that would impede the export of American soy,” Peterson says. He’s also pushing the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to diversify the commodity’s international customer base. That includes more sales to South Asia, Central America, Egypt and markets in southern Africa.
Also important is more funding for the Market Access Program, which champions the sale of American soy and other agricultural products worldwide. The program’s budget, however, has been flat for many years—even with farmers contributing half of a percent per bushel to help fund it.
Dave Walton, ASA Biodiesel & Infrastructure Advocacy Team Chair
Dave Walton farms 1,000 acres in east central Iowa. As chair of the Biofuels & Infrastructure team, he watches closely developments at the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA sets standards annually for the amount of renewable fuels in the energy supply. That includes biomass-based diesel, manufactured mainly with soybean oil. This year, the agency raised the standard by just 60 million gallons to 2.8 billion. Soy growers were expecting a much higher increase. “That’s the head scratcher,” Walton says. He would like to see those 60 million gallons boosted by a factor of 10 to better spur growth in the biodiesel market.
Walton also wants to make sure soy farmers enjoy advantages from the dollars flowing from President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure law. That includes money for both biodiesel and bio-heating oil distribution facilities. “We’re not asking for more, we’re just asking for it to be spent wisely,” he says. ASA is also supportive of biofuels infrastructure spending in the new farm bill.
Also on Walton’s plate for 2023 is working with the Army Corps of Engineers on drought conditions on the Mississippi, which caused serious shipping disruptions over the last year. “If the flow of soybeans stops, it would have a serious negative impact on prices,” he explains. Add to that the challenges of aging rail and road systems and a lack of qualified truck drivers and Walton’s portfolio of distribution worries is quite full.
Alan Meadows, ASA Regulatory Advocacy Team Chair
Alan Meadows won’t be focusing as much on the farm bill this year. The Halls, Tennessee, farmer is mostly worried about pesticide legislation, regulation and court cases. A primary issue is rules regarding the pesticide dicamba. “If nothing else is handed down, we’ll keep using it as labeled,” he says.
Meadows explains that the key reason courts block the use of pesticides is because the products are not in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. “We want these decisions to be rooted in sound science. A lot of times they’re assuming growers use four times the amount that they do,” he says. “We don’t use maximums of these chemicals,” he explains.