Members of the American Soybean Association took advantage of the Las Vegas location of this year's Commodity Classic Conference to corner the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Party Chairman Mark Racicot, who also happens to be Montana's former governor, and as such was a featured speaker during the general session of the annual corn and soybean convention and trade show.

“American Soybean Association leaders discussed our top legislative priorities with Governor Racicot, including the need to include a biodiesel tax incentive in legislation this year, and our concerns with proposals in the President's Budget for the 2005 fiscal year to cut funding for agricultural research and for the Commodity Credit Corporation's bio-energy program,” says Association President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa. “We also asked Governor Racicot's assistance in helping us raise the priority for addressing the threat of soybean rust within the administration.”

Heck says, “Biodiesel is a key new market for soybean oil, and will help support higher prices paid to producers for their soybeans. We appreciate the administration's support for including a tax incentive for biodiesel in the energy bill last year, and we hope the administration will continue to support this provision, which is now included in this year's transportation bill.”

The American Soybean Association also supports the government's bio-fuels Program to create a market for new biodiesel production during the critical period before a biodiesel tax incentive is put in place. The President's Budget reduces funding for the bio-energy program from $150 million in fiscal year 2004 to $100 million in the coming year, and soybean growers are urging the administration to reconsider and fully fund this initiative.

“The current short supply of soybean meal for livestock feed demonstrates the critical need to improve soybean competitiveness through production research,” Heck says. “However, funding for soybean research by the Agricultural Research Service is well below that of other crops with less acreage and value, and the President's budget proposes to reduce USDA-funded soybean and soy-related research by $10 million in fiscal year 2005.”

Another major concern for soybean producers is the threat of Asian soybean rust disease, which could seriously threaten current soybean acreage and production levels in the United States.

“The American Soybean Association is working with USDA to keep rust from entering the country through imports from South America,” Heck says. “However, rust will eventually enter this country, and we need immediate research to develop rust-resistant soybean varieties. We would appreciate efforts to make soybean rust a key national priority.”

The President's Budget proposes to reduce discretionary spending on agriculture programs by $1.7 billion, or 8.1 percent, for fiscal year 2005. The proposed reductions on agriculture programs are greater than those proposed for any other federal department, according to the soybean group.

“As a result of production shortfalls, including soybeans, spending on overall farm programs in fiscal year 2004 is projected to be $4.8 billion less than the August 2003 baseline,” Heck says. “We believe that agriculture is already contributing to deficit reduction, and should not face a further disproportionate cut in appropriations spending.”

As a matter of policy, the American Soybean Association says it does not endorse candidates for public office, but does provide opportunities for representatives of national political parties to present their positions on agriculture-related issues.