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New Soybean Board Chairman will oversee record budget

On Thursday, Marc Curtis, of Leland, Mississippi, was
elected chairman of the United Soybean Board, which administers the national
soybean checkoff of 0.5% of the initial gross sales of soybeans.

The Board’s current fiscal year, which started last
October, is projected to have enough carryover funds and revenue for a record
budget of  $103.5 million, thanks to strong soybean prices.

Curtis, who raises soybeans, wheat and  “a little
bit of corn,” says that one of his top three goals for the year is to make sure
that the new programs the Board has been able to start will continue to bring a
six-fold return on every dollar soybean farmers contribute to the Board.

“It’s a significant increase in the ability to do things
for the farmer,” Curtis says. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure
the soybean farmer maintains his $6.40 return on his investment dollar, even at
these high levels.”

That’s the estimated return mainly from four areas that
have gotten support through the checkoff--increasing exports, supporting
research to increase soybean yields, finding new uses for soybeans, and
supporting animal agriculture.

“Animals are our end user. They’re our main customer and
it only behooves us to support [livestock producer interests] so they can buy our
products,” he says. USB helps pay for the work of the U.S. Meat Export
Federation, for example.

With four consecutive years of increased soybean exports
behind us, the Board can point to success in that area. And new uses for
soybeans continue to be developed and registered. For example, most new Ford
vehicles now have seats made with soy-based foam. Ford is starting to license
its technology to other auto companies, Curtis says, as well as to John Deere,
which is using soy foam in tractor seats.

A second goal for Curtis is better financial oversight of
the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), which gets funds from the Soybean
Board. 

“They always did a good job in foreign countries
developing markets, but the business side of their operation needs to be
improved,” Curtis says.

In 2008 the American Soybean Association alleged several
cases of misuse of funds USSEC and requested an investigation by USDA’s
Inspector General. The results, which became public last July, found
insufficient evidence of wrong doing but also recommended better oversight by
the Soybean Board.

Curtis says that improved oversight had begun before
July. “I think everybody is confident right now that we’re on the right path,”
he says.

This wasn’t the first time the two soybean groups have
clashed. But one result is that both have agreed to a “facilitated discussion,”
Curtis says, “to see if we can’t resolve some of the issues that have come up
over the last two years.” 

The groups will meet at the end of January. 

“Hopefully we can come up with a road map for better
relations going forward,” says Curtis. He adds that he’s keeping an open mind
about the discussion. 

Before heading up the Soybean Board, Curtis served as the
chairman of its Global Opportunities Committee, which works to reduce trade
barriers against soybean exports as well as working to improve transportation
of soybeans in the U.S.

When asked his view of recent reports that China may be
building a soybean bubble by purchasing beans to store domestically, Curtis said
he couldn't answer that directly, since the Soybean Board doesn't do a lot of
short-term market research. "We're not in the business of predicting
prices," he said.

But there's ample room for  growth of soybean use in
China, which is the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans, he said. Even though large
commercial hog producers are already using soybean meal in feed rations, that's
only about a third of China's production. About two-thirds of China's hogs are
produced on farms with small herds, he said.

"If we can get those folks to understand what a feed
ration means, that certainly indicates there's a lot of demand yet to be
met," Curtis told Agriculture.com

The Soybean Board is also a strong supporter of the
biodiesel industry and was one of the first to back the formation of the
National Biodiesel Board. 

When asked his reaction to reports that the tax
compromise working through Congress may restore the dollar-a-gallon tax
 credit for biodiesel for this year and 2011, Curtis said, "there's
no doubt that if the dollar tax credit is reinstated that would help [the
industry]"

However, soybean oil may still struggle as a feedstock
for biodiesel unless petroleum prices go up more, he said. Current soybean oil
prices make it expensive for fuel.

"We do see a potential lucrative market for
biodiesel in the heating oil market in the Northeast," he added.

Several states and New York City have mandatory or
voluntary programs to encourage the use of biodiesel blends in home
furnaces. 

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