TEUTOPOLIS, Ill. — An Illinois farmer will chair a key committee of the United Soybean Board this year.

David Hartke of Teutopolis has been selected to lead the Audit & Evaluation Committee, which is responsible — among other things — for the checkoff program’s compliance with federal rules.

USB, which determines how checkoff funds will be spent, will be working with a budget expected to be about $85 million this year. That is half the total collected nationwide; the remainder is split among soybean-producing states.

Hartke, an Effingham County grain and livestock farmer, said the committee has its hands full.

“We do compliance reviews on everything from contractors to even individual states to assure (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and farmers that their checkoff dollars are being invested correctly and expenditures are what they should be,” he said in an interview with AgriNews. “We make sure everything is in order.”

The checkoff program was established as part of the 1990 farm bill. Growers pay a percentage of the price they get at the elevator to fund USB. The soybean board — made up of 70 producers — directs expenditures each year.

The bulk of the budget is spent in four areas: Meal, oil, freedom to operate and customer focus. Its duties include research, education and marketing, the latter of which involves entities such as the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

One activity monitored by the committee is political matters. By law, the board is not allowed to lobby or otherwise be involved politically in matters of policy. Individual members, however, have the freedom to discuss politics.

“When we do compliance reviews, that is one thing we do look at,” Hartke said. “No checkoff funds may be used to ask for a vote. There is a fine line.

“But as a farmer and especially as a livestock farmer, I’m very concerned about what actions that may be taken by Congress or just by the president that could affect my bottom line. Agriculture has had a good 10-year span here, and I hate to see it go backward. But we could go backward in a real hurry.”

The board also is subject to external reviews by USDA and other entities.

A chief concern for the board is the move by the Food and Drug Administration to require labeling of products containing trans fats and a possible ban. Trans fats are present in partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Soy researchers have long sought to develop commercially feasible lines of low-linoleic varieties, which don’t have to be hydrogenated for longer shelf life.

The organization Qualisoy is working on improved soybean oils. The association is a private-public entity that includes industry leaders such as Syngenta, Pioneer, DuPont and Monsanto, in addition to USDA and the American Soybean Association.

“(A trans fats ban) would mean soybean oil will no longer be allowed in chips, crackers, the whole frying industry,” Hartke said. “We’re at risk of losing a large portion of our oil demand in the states because of this.

“That could happen with an executive order. But we hope with this whole soy group working on low-linoleic beans will help eliminate the trans fat issue because they require no processing, which causes trans fats in soybean oil.”

USB operates in a number of areas, including feed demand for the livestock industry and international marketing. Another of Hartke’s responsibilities is the See for Yourself program in which 10 farmers each year travel overseas to tour facilities that use soybeans. The program is a valuable portion of the board’s public relations mission, Hartke believes.

“I can understand that some people on the outside might criticize this program. But this past year we had more media coverage on the program, dollar-wise, than we spent on the program,” he said. “We get our word out to farmers, even back home, with all the media interviews. The benefits for our program are huge.”