Producer-leaders of the American Soybean Association (ASA) met with former Montana Governor Marc Racicot, Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), to discuss soybean grower legislative priorities. The meeting followed Governor Racicot’s address to several thousand growers and their families during the General Session of Commodity Classic, the annual convention and trade show hosted by the ASA and the National Corn Growers Association.

"ASA leaders discussed our top legislative priorities with Governor Racicot, including the need to include a biodiesel tax incentive in legislation this year, and our concerns with proposals in the President’s Budget for FY 2005 to cut funding for agricultural research and for the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Bioenergy Program," said ASA President Ron Heck, a soybean producer from Perry, Iowa. "ASA also asked Governor Racicot’s assistance in helping us raise the priority for addressing the threat of soybean rust within the Administration."

Governor Racicot’s appearance before the General Session coincided with his visit to Las Vegas to announce formation of the Bush-Cheney agricultural campaign committee. Invitations for similar presentations also were extended to the Presidential campaigns of Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and John Edwards (D-NC). It is ASA policy to not endorse candidates for public office, but to make opportunities available for representatives of national political parties to present their positions on agriculture-related issues to ASA members.

"Biodiesel is a key new market for soybean oil, and will help support higher prices paid to producers for their soybeans," Heck said. "ASA appreciates the Administration’s support for including a tax incentive for biodiesel in the Energy Bill last year, and we hope the Administration will continue to support this provision, which is now included in this year’s Transportation Bill."

ASA leaders also stressed the importance of the Federal CCC Biofuels Program that is creating a market for new biodiesel production during the current critical period before a biodiesel tax incentive is put in place. The President’s Budget reduces funding for the Bioenergy Program from $150 million in FY 2004 to $100 million in the coming year. ASA is urging the Administration to reconsider its support to fully fund this initiative.

"The current short supply of soybean meal for livestock feed demonstrates the critical need to improve soybean competitiveness through production research," Heck said. "However, funding for soybean research by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is well below that of other crops with less acreage and value, and the President’s Budget proposes to reduce ARS-funded soybean and soy-related research by $10 million in FY 2005."

Another major concern for soybean producers is the threat of Asian soybean rust disease, which could seriously threaten current soybean acreage and production levels in the United States. Soybean rust is recognized in a recent White House Directive regarding agricultural biosecurity.

"ASA is working with USDA to keep rust from entering the country through imports from South America," Heck said. "However, rust will eventually enter this country, and we need immediate research to develop rust-resistant soybean varieties. ASA would appreciate efforts to make soybean rust a key national priority."

The President’s Budget proposes to reduce discretionary spending on agriculture programs by $1.7 billion, or 8.1 percent, for FY 2005. The proposed reductions on agriculture programs are greater than those proposed for any other federal department.

"As a result of production shortfalls, including soybeans, spending on overall farm programs in FY 2004 is projected to be $4.8 billion less than the August 2003 baseline," Heck said. "ASA believes that agriculture is already contributing to deficit reduction, and should not face a further disproportionate cut in appropriations spending."