American Soybean Association (ASA) leaders have again taken soybean grower concerns to Congressional offices in Washington, D.C.

Priority issues for soybean growers include proposed five percent cuts to farm programs, research programs for soybean rust and aquaculture as well as an extension to the biodiesel tax incentive and funding for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Bioenergy Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"ASA is championing soybean grower interests in Washington, D.C.," said ASA President Bob Metz, a soybean producer from West Browns Valley, S.D. "There are many diverse issues, ranging from the budget to trade agreements to soybean rust programs, which directly affect the profitability of soybean farms, rural communities and America’s overall economy."

On behalf of soybean growers, ASA is asking Congress not to approve the Administration’s proposal to cut farm programs by five percent in the FY-2007 Budget Resolution, or to reduce payment limitations. Agriculture gave more than its fair share in reduced spending in the FY-2006 Budget Reconciliation process. Another cut would only further reduce the funding baseline for writing the 2007 farm bill. In addition, no disaster assistance was provided for 2005 crop losses, and fertilizer and energy prices remain high.

Support of soybean research is also important to the long-term progress of the soybean industry. ASA worked with Congress, which recognized the threat of soybean rust to the entire U.S. agricultural economy, to provide more than $2 million for soybean rust research in FY-2005 and FY-2006. Farmers have invested more than $5 million of their own funds on soybean rust programs and soybean researchers agreed in 2004 to create a national strategic plan of research needs for soybean rust while soybean.

Guided by the strategic plan, the President’s FY-2007 budget increases funding for soybean rust research by $1.85 million. The funding will support multiple important research activities, including genetic-resistant plant varieties, predictive technology and disease management strategies.

Another area of new opportunity for soybean growers is in domestic offshore aquaculture, and ASA is working to ensure funding for research. Aquaculture is the fastest growing form of food production in the world, and most of this growth is offshore and overseas. Seafood imports are the second biggest contributor to the U.S. trade deficit — almost $8 billion per year. But a sustainable, environmentally-friendly U.S. aquaculture industry requires a renewable source of feed with minimal waste. ASA supports full funding for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to support research on plant-based feeds necessary to develop regulatory mechanisms for an offshore aquaculture industry in the United States.

Last year, ASA achieved its top legislative goal when the landmark Energy Bill extended the biodiesel tax incentive to 2008. ASA leaders are now championing a new bill, S. 2401, introduced recently by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that extends the popular biodiesel tax incentive through the end of 2010. "Extension of the biodiesel tax incentive is important to soybean farmers and rural economies as well as America’s energy security and environment," Metz said.

Even with the tax incentive, biodiesel requires an additional payment from the USDA CCC program in years when the relative prices of soybean oil and petroleum diesel are unfavorable to biodiesel production and commercialization. Funding for the Bioenergy Program has fallen from the authorized level of $150 million to $100 million in FY-2005 and $60 million in FY-2006. ASA is working to ensure that biodiesel receives no less than the $25 million allocated in FY-2005 in FY-2006. Furthermore, the 2002 farm bill eliminates funding authority for the Bioenergy Program in FY-2007. ASA is calling on USDA and Members of Congress to ensure that CCC funds continue to be provided for biodiesel production in FY-2007.

EDITOR’S NOTE — ASA serves as the collective policy voice of 25,000 U.S. soybean producers on domestic and international issues of importance.