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Editor’s Note: Steve Censky grew up on a southwestern Minnesota corn and soybean farm. He worked in Washington, D.C., for 10 years as a legislative assistant, at the Department of Agriculture and eventually as administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service. He joined the American Soybean Association (ASA) in 1994 as director of international marketing and was named chief executive officer in 1996.

AM: What are the biggest issues facing your membership?

No. 1 is staying profitable in this period of low prices brought about by record global oilseed production and demand that hasn’t fully rebounded. Second, because soybeans are a commodity that’s close to 50 percent exported, the high value of the U.S. dollar has a big impact on our competitiveness. On an individual farmer level, a key issue is how the grower can maximize production and marketing efficiency.

AM: How has your association responded to the challenges posed by competition from Argentina and Brazil?

ASA has pursued policies that focus on how we can stay competitive. These policies include increased funding for agricultural research, good domestic policy such as no supply controls or unilateral trade sanctions, full planting flexibility and an adequate safety net.

Increasing competition from South America also points to the urgent need to update our infrastructure. Between 60 percent and 70 percent of our exports move through the Gulf, and we know our competitors are investing heavily in their infrastructure while ours is outdated and outmoded. That’s why we need Congress to provide funding for the study and building of expanded 1,200-foot locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Also, we’ve tried to shift our marketing efforts in recent years to market the advantages of U.S. soybeans and soy meal.

AM: How do you see the structure of the industry evolving, and what does that mean for the agribusinesses that serve farmers?

As farms continue to get larger, a lot of farmers will buy on price, while others will want services connected to the price for their inputs. I think there’s also going to be a continuing trend toward opportunities for more specialized production. These farmers will want a large degree of service connected with their inputs. We are going to see more farmers, especially larger farmers, using the Internet.

AM: Domestic soybean acreage has expanded dramatically under Freedom to Farm. How has this changed the dynamics of your organization?

Certainly, for the soybean checkoff, the expanded acreage has brought in additional revenues critical to expanding demand and usage. For ASA, it has reinforced our very traditional outward positive view of the world and the possibilities that are out there. Internally, we’ve seen some shifts in membership from the South to the West and North. Most of the soybean production growth in 2000 occurred in northern and western states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

One of our biggest challenges is how to develop and market member-only benefits because we have a lot of "free riders." How do we reach out to them and convince them of the merits of supporting ASA and our efforts?

AM: Do you like tofu? Do you include soy products in your diet?

The honest answer I can say is, yes, I do like tofu. I got used to eating it when I lived in China in the mid-1980s when I spent nine months at an animal husbandry institute teaching English. I like it in cooking. Nowadays, I start out with a soy protein shake every morning and occasionally eat burgers made of soy and breakfast cereals made from soy that you are starting to see on grocery shelves.

We’re going to see a lot more mainstream foods that contain soy in the years to come, partly as a result of the success we had in petitioning the Food and Drug Administration for a soy protein health claim that it reduces cholesterol and lowers the incidence of heart disease. AM

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