By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 14 – After years of fighting over a funding and a wide variety of soybean industry issues, individuals from the American Soybean Association (ASA), the United Soybean Board (USB), state soybean associations and Qualified State Soybean Boards, now appear ready to officially “bury the hatchet.”
In a carefully timed series of announcements in Washington, DC today, a working group referred to as the “group of 16”or “g16,” will announce recommendations “to enhance ASA and USB’s working relationship in order to best serve the interests of all U.S. soybean farmers.” The recommendations were first developed during a January 2011 meeting in New Orleans.

“The g16 recognizes that the way forward is based on trust, respect, ethics, and an open and honest dialogue,” according to documents obtained by Agri-Pulse.  “This understanding has been achieved by finding common ground and includes an agreement to look to the future and move beyond past issues.”

Just a week earlier at the Commodity Classic in Tampa, ASA delegates approved nearly a dozen resolutions expressing unconditional backing for the checkoff and USB. At that time, USB Chairman Marc Curtis told Agri-Pulse last week that the two groups are getting along better than they have in years, in part because of a concerted effort by soybean leaders over the past two years to get their relationships back on track.

“We’re on the pathway to better relations and improving all the time,” Curtis said. “We’re getting back to the degree of cooperation and togetherness that we had back when I was president of ASA” in 1999.

Just a few years earlier, the level of conflict flared so high that ASA leaders submitted a petition to USDA in December 2008, asking for an Office of Inspector General investigation into numerous allegations against the United Soybean Board (USB), the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) and McLeod, Watkinson & Miller, the law firm representing both USB and USSEC. In a July 27, 2010 memo, USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found “insufficient evidence” to support the charges.

Later today, USB’s Curtis, along with ASA President Alan Kemper, will roll out a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Code of Conduct that they hope their respective organizations will adopt. The ASA board could adopt the recommendations as early as today; the USB board plans to vote on the same documents during their June meeting.

Acknowledgements and Understandings under the MOU include:

1. ASA recognizes that the national checkoff program plays a vital role in the research and promotion of soybeans and in producer and consumer education for the benefit of the U.S. soybean farmer. ASA further recognizes that USB is governed by the Soybean Checkoff Act and Order.

2. USB recognizes ASA as a national soybean policy organization representing U.S. soybean farmers both domestically and internationally. 

3. ASA and USB recognize their role as equal co-founders of USSEC. Both organizations recognize the brand value of ASA IM. USB and ASA will encourage the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) to maintain the brand value of ASA IM in USSEC’s international marketing efforts. Farmers working through ASA TPIA and USB international marketing committees will direct the activities of USSEC through their respective funding commitments.

4. USB and ASA recognize the role that ASA plays as Cooperator for FAS international marketing funds, and that ASA will strive to maintain and enhance this role in the future.

5. Successful completion of collaborative efforts demonstrates to all stakeholders the seriousness of ASA/USB commitment to working together.

6. ASA and USB recognize the importance of joint meetings involving their organizations officers and CEOs as well as including, when appropriate, the CEO and officers of USSEC.

7. ASA is recognized for its efforts in developing leadership through programs with collaborative funding from ASA, USB and other partners, including, but not limited to, the soybean leadership college and Board training.

Commitments and Undertakings

1.  Communication: ASA and USB will cooperate and collaborate on opportunities to improve the flow of and access to timely, accurate, relevant and material information between both organizations, their boards of directors, and committees, as well as between national and state organizations.

Actions to support this commitment include: sharing minutes and financial information; sharing committee reports; improving director-to-director communication; and giving credit and recognition to each other organization’s efforts in communication releases. 

2.  Professional Leadership Development: Building upon ASA’s efforts in leadership development, ASA and USB will collaborate in maintaining, developing and expanding professional leadership programs with financial assistance from both organizations and other supporting partners.

Actions to support this commitment include: creating board training opportunities for both organizations, including training in conflict management.

3. Building a Culture of Trust: Realizing the importance and value of collaboration, trust and respect, ASA and USB will develop ways to involve each other in the development of tools and creation of opportunities that will increase and promote collaboration, trust and respect between the organizations.

Actions to support this commitment include: periodic joint meetings of the Board of Directors of each organization and their executive committees. A further action will be the creation of a joint USB/ASA committee. The responsibilities of the committee will be:

• Monitor implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding

• Strategic planning for identified joint efforts

• Develop and manage a voluntary conflict resolution process

The committee make up shall be:
•ASA 1st Vice President as Co-Chair

• USB vice chairman as Co-Chair

• Two additional USB members

• Two additional ASA members

• ASA president as a non-voting member

• USB Chairman as a non-voting member

The committee shall have authority to:
• Monitor Memorandum of Understanding Implementation

• Monitor Code of Conduct adherence

• Strategic Planning for identified collaboration opportunities

• Voluntary conflict resolution

• Call for joint meetings of both ASA and USB executive committees

The committee shall meet as needed scheduled by the Co-Chairs. Further, any four members of the committee may call for a special meeting. If four members call for a meeting, the Co-Chairs shall call the meeting as soon as possible. The committee shall be funded by both USB and ASA.

This Memorandum of Understanding will be a continuing and proactive effort of both organizations, and will require collaboration and periodic review to insure that progress is being made. ASA and USB recognize that the way forward is based upon trust, respect, ethics, and open and honest dialogue, and encourages each organization to support this philosophy.

In addition to the MOU, the g16 recommended the following Code of Conduct:

The Memorandum of Understanding approved by the American Soybean Association (ASA) and United Soybean Board (USB) Board of Directors sets forth a commitment of both organizations to build a culture of trust. One means to achieve this goal is the Code of Conduct which is set forth below.

The Code is applicable to USB and ASA Boards, executive committees, committees, work groups, contractors and staffs. The Code applies to all interactions between these groups and between individual members of these groups.

The Code sets forth simple, common sense principles intended to inspire and guide behaviors that foster and promote actions that are consistent with the G8 principles of trust, respect, ethics, and open and honest dialogue.
•  Treat all persons with respect, courtesy, consideration, and fairness.

•  Conduct organizational and operational duties with positive leadership exemplified by open communication, creativity, and dedication.

•  Conduct business in a manner that is open and transparent, without violating confidences or disclosing confidential or proprietary information.

•  Demonstrate the highest standards of personal integrity, truthfulness, honesty and fortitude in all activities in order to inspire confidence and trust in such activities and both organizations.

•  Avoid any interest or activity that is in conflict with the conduct of your official duties.

•  Strive for personal and professional excellence.

•  Listen to what others have to say.

•  Speak up and share all relevant information in a way that others can understand it and independently validate it. Good decision making requires valid information.

For related soybean industry stories see:

Sex, knives and soybean politics

USDA’s IG finds ‘insufficient evidence’ to support soybean charges
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