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Soybean checkoff program

As a lifelong soybean farmer, I know the value of having a dedicated work team. Whether it's a team of family members, dedicated employees, or both, all know the work of one is no greater than the work of the other. It takes the entire team and their respective roles to take the seed from furrow to harvest to market.

Our farm organizations are no different as we work through Farm Bureau and commodity organizations to plan and implement meaningful policies and programs.

Some years ago, I was on a team that founded the United Soybean Board, the organization charged with oversight of the national soybean checkoff program. I spent countless months with fellow farmers drafting what would become the foundation of the soybean checkoff program.

We had to create a structure that would allow us to perform like the greatest of teams while serving individual soybean farmers. Checkoff farmer leaders had to focus on their role: driving global demand for U.S. soy, whether it was through international or domestic marketing efforts; researching new uses like biodiesel; and developing new production techniques and advances, such as managing SCN and Asian soybean rust. Our job was to advance the competitiveness of U.S. soybean farmers through these efforts.

A spirit of teamwork was a driving force behind the creation of many of our national soybean checkoff programs. Most of our commodities already had effective policy and advocacy organizations to represent us on Capitol Hill. Some states had state checkoff programs that allowed their farmers to do research and promotion at the local level. What we were missing was the strength that could come from a national checkoff focused on driving demand and building new markets.

Similar models can be found in the other 16 agricultural checkoff programs, whether it's avocados, beef, popcorn, or pork. We're uniting our industries toward one common goal — expanding market opportunities for U.S. producers. The key to success is working as a team with our individual ag products to advance each and every producer. It's something we couldn't do as individuals.

Our checkoffs tackle the work we don't have the time or resources to do by ourselves. I don't know about you, but my days are already pretty full without having to worry about identifying new production techniques to increase my cotton yield or developing a soybean variety that will be resistant to white mold. I don't have time to establish and staff offices in India, China or Mexico to ensure I am providing the kind of customer service current and potential buyers of my products expect and demand. Usually by the end of the day the last thing I want to do is develop an industry-wide quality program and then promote it to pork producers, handlers and transporters. I just don't have time and I am guessing neither would any other single individual.

And as important as I believe these checkoff programs are, I also think it's vital to have a system of checks and balances to ensure our checkoff dollars are invested effectively and responsibly. Frankly, with all my other responsibilities, this is something else I really don't have time to do on a daily basis. It's one of the reasons why I am grateful for the processes that are in place with our national checkoff programs. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service agency has primary oversight of our checkoff programs with USDA's Foreign Ag Services providing additional oversight in global markets.

Every volunteer producer who sits on a checkoff board takes an oath of office from USDA, an oath of fiduciary responsibility. As a farmer who took that oath, I can tell you it's something you take seriously when you are considering projects to fund and managing the overall checkoff investment portfolio. You understand that every dollar you assign to a project came from one of your fellow farmers.

Even though I am no longer on a checkoff board, I still believe in the impact these checkoffs have had on each of our bottom lines. I'm thankful I have a team backing me up. A team comprised of every one of my fellow producers. It doesn't matter if I raise mushrooms, sorghum or soybeans, I know that there are people focused 100 percent on driving demand for my ag products so that I can focus my efforts on my farm, my family and my daily job at hand.
David Winkles
USB past chairman

Editor's note: David Winkles farms in Sumter County, S.C. He started farming with his father after graduating from Clemson University in 1971. They plant corn, soybeans, and wheat on about 850 acres of cropland with around 200 acres of timber. He was chairman of the United Soybean Board in 1996 and was a founding director. He serves as president of South Carolina Farm Bureau.

TAGS: Soybean
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