In the late 1980s, if a discussion revolved around “Brazil” and “powerhouse”, the likely topic would have started with the letter “s,” for soccer.

But to Dwain Ford, the 2002-03 American Soybean Association (ASA) president, that “s” word definitely referred to soybeans.

Eleven years ago, Ford was hammering away on his master's degree focusing on international trade and marketing. His 1991 thesis looked at Brazil's soybean production history, potential for future production and the impact on U.S. farmers.

A powerful advantage the U.S. held a short decade ago — river transportation — is one that Ford has seen slip away firsthand.

“Our lock and dam system on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers is outdated and in bad need of repair,” he says. “South America spent more than $650 million this past year on infrastructure improvements. Every day we do nothing, they gain more of a competitive advantage.”

While a soybean-growing juggernaut is being built in Brazil and Argentina, Ford believes the playing field can be leveled. “We need to look at alternatives such as higher protein and higher oil soybeans.”

That type of vision and direction has guided the tradition at Ford Farms since the late 1800s. The 1,700-acre grain operation consists of 80% soybeans, used as stock seed for the family enterprise, M & D Seed Company. The farm, operated by Ford, his wife, Melba, son Shannon, and parents, Charles and Elsie, also has a 1,070 sow, farrow-to-wean swine facility and an accounting and tax business.

Past ASA president

Bart Ruth says trade and international policy issues will be on the commodity group's front burner. “Dwain brings extensive experience in international trade and marketing to the table,” he notes. “It's safe to say he has the broadest experience in that area of any of our past presidents.”

With numerous trips to South America and his long-term attention to international issues, Ford will key on foreign trade during the next year for ASA. “We need to open new markets and bring down trade barriers,” he says. “It costs U.S. agriculture approximately $1 billion in lost sales, and between $300-350 million specific to soybeans.”

He lists Iran and Cuba as two glaring examples where grain embargoes make little sense from a foreign policy standpoint. “We all believe we need security for the U.S., but we don't need to use food as a constraint, and nothing else. If you put an embargo on a country, it should be on everything, not just food.”

Besides the international front, some of the key issues that Ford will work to move forward during his term as president include:

  • Biotechnology: Traceability and labeling issues that have dogged U.S. commodities in Europe need continued attention. “If someone in Europe wants to give a 100% guarantee that their product is biotech free, then label it that way,” he says. “The consumer will know everything else has biotech, and let them make the decision.”

  • Biodiesel: “With all the new legislation and growing acceptance, we need to continue to educate and build on biodiesel use. There's major opportunities here,” he says.

  • Membership: With 25,000 members, there's strength in numbers. “When we go to Washington, D.C., or our state capitals, we have clout,” he says. “There's no question in my mind that had we not been at the table, we would not have the $5 loan rate, plus a 44¢ fixed payment and a counter-cyclical payment providing a $5.80 safety net in the new Farm Bill. That could pay membership dues for a long, long time.”