Farmer-leaders of the American Soybean Association (ASA) met March 3 with Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns to discuss World Trade Organization (WTO) priorities, conservation reserve and commodity program policies in the 2007 farm bill, modernization of locks and dams, and European Union (EU) traceability and labeling regulations.

Secretary Johanns was in Anaheim, Calif., to speak at the General Session at the 2006 Commodity Classic, the combined convention and trade show of the ASA and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

In regard to the ongoing trade negotiations, ASA expressed its concern that product exemptions from overall tariff cuts could undermine any market access gains for U.S. farmers. ASA also continued to emphasize that countries with world-class exporting sectors, like Brazil, Argentina, and Malaysia, must accept disciplines in all three pillars of the negotiations, similar to developed countries.

“If ASA’s concerns are not addressed in the Modalities Agreement, U.S. commodity groups doubt they can be successfully resolved in the bilateral negotiations to follow,” said ASA President Bob Metz, a soybean producer from West Browns Valley, S.D.

Discussing the 2007 farm bill, Metz said, “ASA and other farm groups are looking at Green Box revenue-based program options.”

The ASA leaders then told Secretary Johanns that they plan to ask Congress to focus the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on environmentally sensitive lands, and to reduce the statutory cap of 39.2 million acres, in the 2007 farm bill.

“World demand for soybean meal and oil is growing rapidly, and acreage available for corn and soybean production is limited, particularly with the expected expansion of ethanol and biodiesel production,” Metz said. “The Conservation Reserve Program includes millions of acres of productive farmland that could be planted to our crops and can be farmed in an environmentally sustainable manner to fill these growing demands.

The meeting also provided an opportunity to clarify the Administration’s position on funding to modernize locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, as proposed in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation.

“Today, Secretary Johanns assured us that when Congress sends WRDA to the President the Administration will not oppose the legislation,” Metz said.

ASA also expressed its strong thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for all the support it provided that allowed the United States to win the WTO case against the EU moratorium on the approval of new biotech-enhanced crops.

“We must follow-up on this win with two things,” Metz said. “First, we must ensure that the EU brings its approval processes and the national bans into conformance with the panel findings. Second, we must move quickly forward with a WTO challenge of the EU’s discriminatory and non-science based traceability and labeling regulations for biotech products. These regulations are costing U.S. growers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales to the EU annually.”

ASA was one of the 21 trade associations that urged the Administration in November 2003 to initiate a WTO challenge against the EU’s traceability and labeling regulations.

“At the request of the U.S. trade representative, we were asked to wait until the outcome of the moratorium case was known,” Metz said. “We’ve been patient for two and half years, but now is the time to begin moving forward. Secretary Johanns understood the importance of this issue and will be working with us as we press forward.”

ASA is a membership organization representing 26,000 soybean producers. It's mission is to improve U.S. soybean farmer profitability.