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Rift widens with call for investigation of United Soybean Board

Agriculture.com Staff 12/10/2008 @ 11:41am

Some of the differences between the American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board, which administers a national soybean checkoff, go back for years.

But, according to ASA president John Hoffman, a Waterloo, Iowa farmer, concern about allegations of improper use of checkoff funds have been growing for the past six months. So ASA representatives will be meeting soon with Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer to request an investigation by USDA's Office of Inspector General.

"The American Soybean Association board is united on this. We voted unanimously to move forward," Hoffman told Agriculture Online Wednesday morning, after a Tuesday evening vote made at the winter meeting in St. Louis.

Early Wednesday ASA released a list of eight areas it wants USDA to investigate, but Hoffman said he considers three issues the most serious:

  1. Possible financial mismanagement. ASA alleges that the United Soybean Board has been wasteful with the $1.2 billion it has collected since 1992 and that mismanagement worsened as yields and prices rose. Collections are estimated at $140 million in 2008. Half of that goes to USB and the other half goes to state checkoffs, which Hoffman says are well-run. At the national level, however, USB may have used no-bid contracts for large contractors.

    "The national soybean checkoff has about $70 million to work with, roughly a dollar an acre. That's a lot of money," Hoffman said.

  2. By placing USB staff on the books of contractors, USB may have been able to exceed a cap on staff salaries of 1% of USB checkoff assessments, as well as a 5% cap on administrative costs.
  3. At least two USB staff whistleblowers who complained about wrongdoing have been fired, Hoffman said. "When a whistleblower gets fired, that breaks the law."

Some of the allegations involve the U.S. Soybean Export Council, which is a joint effort of the Soybean Association and USB.

"We have tried to work within the system, to uncover some of the facts. We've been thwarted by the United Soybean Board and their attorneys," Hoffman said.

An Agriculture Online effort to reach USB Chairman Ike Boudreaux was unsuccessful Wednesday. The Board released a statement that said, in part, "The allegations made by the American Soybean Association against the United Soybean Board (USB) regarding mismanagement of farmer checkoff dollars are categorically untrue."

"Today, U.S. soybean farmers enjoy record demand both here and abroad for their soybeans, through the fiscally responsible efforts of the farmers who serve voluntarily on USB," the statement said. "If the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) deems it necessary, USB welcomes a USDA Office of Inspector General audit of any and all of its operations, contractor operations and projects. We would encourage all U.S. soybean farmers to learn more about how USB and the soybean checkoff program operate by visiting www.unitedsoybean.org, the only official website of USB and the soybean checkoff program."

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