In a letter to Senate Agriculture Committee leaders, the American Soybean Association (ASA) joined agricultural stakeholder groups from all corners of the industry in expressing its firm opposition to an amendment to the 2012 farm bill that would make federal research, promotion and marketing programs -- also called “checkoffs”--voluntary. ASA and its colleagues called on Sens. Stabenow and Roberts to oppose the measure proposed earlier this week by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.

Established by an act of Congress and overseen by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the soybean checkoff is a generic marketing and research program designed to increase domestic and international demand for U.S. soy and supported entirely by U.S. soybean farmers through an assessment on all soybeans sold.

“The checkoff is not a tax. It is not something that is imposed upon us as farmers. Rather, it allows farmers to invest our own dollars to conduct research, build markets and create new uses for soy,” said ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Neb., who has paid into the checkoff since its establishment in 1992. “Our checkoff program has produced a strong return of $6.40 in increased profit for every dollar invested.”

“With oversight provided by USDA, producers have taken it upon themselves to fund over $905 million of research, promotion and consumer education programs annually through checkoff activities at no cost to the federal government,” stated the groups in the letter. “In these austere budgetary times, our producers should be commended and certainly deserve the support of Congress. Our members see the checkoff programs as an investment in their families’ future which they and their fellow producers have voluntarily adopted.”

Since ASA worked to establish the checkoff in 1992, demand for U.S. soy has soared. In those two decades, ASA and the United Soybean Board, which directs checkoff funds, has worked hard for American soybean farmers and seen very positive results. In that time, the annual value of American-grown soybeans has more than tripled, exports have more than doubled, and soy biodiesel has grown from simply a good idea to a 1 billion gallon industry, creating jobs and economic opportunities in rural communities.

“Checkoff programs cost the government zero dollars. They are paid for and guided by the farmers they serve. Even USDA oversight of the soy checkoff is funded by soybean farmers. Furthermore, farmers already have the chance to vote via referendum every five years whether we continue such checkoff programs,” said Wellman. “ASA strongly opposes Sen. DeMint’s amendment, and will work to defeat any effort that would weaken checkoff programs.”

Support for the checkoff remains overwhelmingly strong among soybean farmers. In the most recent request for referendum in 2009, less than one-tenth of a percent of the farmers required for an actual referendum participated.