After more than a dozen interviews in a single day, Ron Heck is certainly as comfortable and poised in front of a reporter as he is in front of members of the American Soybean Association (ASA). With more than a decade of state and national soybean association jobs under his belt, he's now in the No. 1 slot — president.
From Perry, IA, heart of the nation's breadbasket, he annually grows 1,800 acres each of soybeans and corn.
When some association leaders' terms end, they've had enough. Not Heck. “The more I volunteered, the more value I saw in what an association could and does accomplish,” he says. “I believe it takes a farmer at the table to get the best outcome for other farmers.”
When Heck talks about being at the table, especially when it comes to government action, he's not just talking about the Farm Bill process. “That's a small part of it,” he says. “Opening and creating markets, regulations and tax laws are all more important than just the safety net.”
Says Dwain Ford, chairman of ASA's board of directors, “Ron has done a good job of testifying before congressional committees and agencies like APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), USDA and EPA. He's organized, structured and has a great deal of experience with associations. He just understands them and how they work.”
But try to nail Heck down on what his No. 1 issue will be this year and it can't be done. He's emphatic that the top three all have equal importance.
- Biodiesel excise tax exemption
“Even though it's small — a $70 million provision in the Energy Bill — we're going to stick with it until it's completed,” says Heck, who hopes it will occur by early fall.
The goal is to get a 1¢/gal. exemption for 1% biodiesel, up to a 20¢/gal. exemption for a 20% blend (B20).
“That makes biodiesel competitive with petroleum diesel to give the biodiesel industry time to become established. You can't compete with an established industry without getting start-up help,” Heck says.
- World trade and competitiveness
When the World Trade Organization Doha trade negotiations take place this month, Heck and other ASA leaders will be at the table. “It's the one chance we get every 10-12 years to help write new rules for how agriculture is going to compete around the world,” he says.
“For example, food coming into this country faces an average tariff of 12%; food we export faces an average tariff of 62%,” Heck explains. “Clearly, if importing countries almost double the price of food we export, it's a barrier that keeps us from expanding our markets and feeding people around the world at a reasonable cost.
“We need to get tariffs down worldwide for better world trade,” he says.
Heck also believes there's a need to level the worldwide playing field for production subsidies. He says the 31 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report average subsidies for agriculture of 31%, while the U.S. subsidy is only 21%.
“Bottom line, we're subsidized less than our developed competition,” says Heck. “We support lowering subsidies in exchange for opening markets around the world. We also, in the Doha round, need to define what types of subsidies distort trade. For that, it takes a farmer to understand what these subsidies are worth.”
- Asian rust
“It's nasty stuff and we're working hard with APHIS to keep it out,” Heck says. “We're working equally as hard to improve our ability to manage it when it arrives. It's a priority for us to be prepared.”
Asian rust was discovered in Japan in 1902. It stayed in Asia until 1994, when it jumped to Hawaii. In 1996 it moved to Africa. And in 2001, it hit Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.
“This is just another example of where you need a farmer in the room — when talking to fungicide and seed companies, EPA and other USDA agencies,” Heck says. “They're all competent and qualified, but you need the customer, the farmer, there.”