Time flies. Once again, five years have passed and you're at the threshold of deciding whether you're satisfied with the national soybean checkoff.

You should ask: "Are my 1/2 of 1%/bu checkoff dollars, amounting to about $40 million annually, truly increasing the profitability of me growing soybeans?"

With the abundance of research and successful promotion projects funded by the United Soybean Board (USB), more than likely your answer will be yes. In fact, USB reports in its fall 1998 survey of 1,003 soybean farmers, 69% supported the checkoff. However, that figure is 13 percentage points less than a year earlier when it was 82%.

As you may know, the automatic producer review process held every five years was established in the "Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act" of 1990. Congress passed the legislation and growers, like you, supported and approved the order.

So now, if you're questioning the benefits of the checkoff, the act's automatic mechanism to get the ball rolling on a new referendum is in place.

It works like this. USDA is currently determining from a list of some 970,000 soybean growers who will meet the legal description of eligibility.

Once that list is released and a public comment period concludes, there will be an opportunity for you to request a referendum, says Ralph Taft from USDA's Ag Marketing Service.

That formal request, or petition, gives you the democratic right to let USDA know whether you want a recall vote on the referendum. You'll do that by going to your local Farm Service Agency office and signing the petition. Officially, it will take 10% or more of you to petition for a recall vote.

That process can start, Taft says, once you're able to sign the petition, scheduled for sometime late summer. Regardless, the process must be concluded by the end of the year.

Eligible producers who do not want to have a referendum are not required to do anything. Interestingly, the soybean checkoff is unlike the pork and beef checkoffs, which require a grassroots petition drive, not an automatic system.

Supporters of the checkoff, and again that's most of you, regularly see the benefits. For example, projects like biodiesel research and the new health claim for soy protein are big wins.

But with today's dumper soybean prices, American growers might question the effectiveness of a checkoff. However, according to the survey, 74% of you believe price is driven by worldwide economic conditions and does not reflect any failure on the part of the checkoff.

So, if you're part of the minority that opposes the checkoff, your time is fast approaching to express your dissatisfaction. On the other hand, if you're a checkoff supporter, maybe it's time to be more pro-active and work at educating naysayers about its value.