Donation program corporate welfare?

The American Soybean Association's campaign to allow USDA to donate up to $1 billion in soybeans and soy products overseas is drawing opposition from what might be considered an unexpected source - a soybean farmer.

Harvey Joe Sanner, a former president of the American Agriculture Movement and a grower from Des Arc, Ark., says the campaign that ASA has been pushing for more than a year actually amounts to a form of "corporate welfare."

Last year, ASA began working with the major grain companies to develop a program where Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman could tap the Commodity Credit Corp. to buy soybeans and soy products for donation overseas - without displacing U.S. commercial sales.

Glickman approved the program, but it ran into a stone wall when it reached the White House Office of Management and Budget. Although not saying so publicly, OMB officials appear to believe that farmers have received all the help they need from the government.

ASA recently began a postcard campaign to persuade the secretary to try to get the program off center prior to the elections. The campaign prompted Sanner to level a blast at the Soybean Association. "As a member of the American Soybean Association from Arkansas, I'm appalled at this brazen appeal," he said. "With a marketing loan program in place that allows the movement of crops at world market prices, it is ludicrous to propose corporate welfare of this magnitude."

Referring to a spokesman's statement that the donation program would help ASA move closer to its affiliates, Sanner said the organization is already married to the grain trade.

"That marriage from hell helped push Freedom to Farm down the throats of the American farmer with little regard to the devastation it would cause soybean growers," said Sanner, who serves on Sen. Blanche Lincoln's Agricultural Advisory Committee and has ties to the Clinton White House.

In an open letter to Secretary Glickman, Sanner said he would propose an alternate plan: Apply the $1 billion to the soybean marketing loan program. "Using round numbers of a 3-billion-bushel soybean crop, that would mean a 33 cents per bushel increase for American farmers."

With redemption at the world price, "the market would still be able to acquire soybeans at bargain basement prices," he noted. "Thirty-three cents is not a lot, but at least it would benefit soybean producers. That is the segment of the farm population that ASA continues to ignore."

Before we're deluged with letters and phone calls, let me quickly say that this publication supports the objectives of farm organizations like ASA and of producer-funded programs like the soybean checkoff. And, we certainly are not opposed to food donations overseas.

But, we also believe that Sanner's comments reflect a growing sentiment among producers - that benefits from such programs should be targeted at their level rather than allowed to "trickle down" after the grain companies take a share of the proceeds.

We expect those feelings to be a major topic as farmers and their organizations begin to hammer out positions on farm policy issues for the next farm bill.

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