“Increased membership.”That's a priority for Johnny Dodson in his list of goals for the American Soybean Association (ASA).

The new ASA president, who takes office in December, also sees continued promotion of biofuels and biotechnology, implementation of the new farm bill and stronger access to export markets as major issues for 2009 and beyond.

Dodson, 49, grows soybeans, corn, cotton, wheat and rice and runs a small beef cattle herd in western Tennessee near Halls. He admits he thought twice about entering an ASA leadership role. Then his Tennessee “volunteer” side kicked in. He's also counting on a team of other ASA volunteers to help promote increased production efficiency and profitability.

“We need more members,” stresses Dodson, while encouraging state soybean organizations to take the same attitude toward increasing membership rolls. “Membership is the lifeblood of any organization. We have to encourage more soybean producers to become members in support of ASA's farm and trade policy work.”

He reminds growers that ASA and state soybean associations help bring about state and national legislation that promotes biofuels and overall farm programs. “ASA is also the voice for soybean growers in Washington on environmental issues and other programs that can impact our production and marketing,” says Dodson.

“Biodiesel is a major market for our beans and a major asset in the nation's efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil. It also benefits the environment by helping improve air quality,” he says.

DODSON SAYS THE new farm program, which offers new crop safety net alternatives for producers, should be implemented to offer growers the ability to select and manage the plan best suited for their growing area and individual situation.

“The new ACRE (Average Crop Revenue Election) is a good pilot program, but many of us will choose to use the traditional safety net program. We feel it makes soybeans more equitable with corn,” he says.

On the topic of exports, the World Trade Organization (WTO) on-and-off dialog shows differences in the level of subsidy cuts among the U.S. and Europe and developing countries. ASA seeks a WTO agreement that provides U.S. growers greater access to world markets

“ASA has always seen a vital role for exports,” says Dodson. “That's why we need a fair and equitable WTO agreement. We need market access to foreign buyers.”

Dodson is excited about new biotech advances in soybeans. “We have three new events for the 2009 planting season,” he says. “Roundup Ready 2, LibertyLink (which was approved for use in the EU this fall) and the new Optimum GAT systems offer some important alternatives for growers. ASA can help assure that the regulatory approval process is timely and science-based for these and other biotech products.

“I know it's important for people to have someone to follow. But I also know that we have a strong board of directors who will work together. Engaging them will make our organization a lot stronger,” Dodson says.

He adds that the grassroots membership can be “extremely effective” if individually they contact their own congressional delegation on important issues.

“You cannot believe how much communication with your elected officials can do,” he says. “They need our input about issues that are important to their farmer constituents.”