(Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)
Soybean policy pioneers
March 15, 2021
Ron Heck, who farms near Perry, received the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) 2021 Legacy of Leadership Award. His father, Raymond, posthumously received the same award in 2014. Raymond and Ron are the only father and son team to receive lifetime awards from the American Soybean Association.
How did your awards impact you?
Ron: Receiving a legacy award is a visible affirmation that my family’s efforts to make soybeans and ISA successful have been worthwhile for future farmers.
However, that doesn’t begin to capture the decades of experiences and successes that come to me when I reflect on the fabulous journey that I took with so many other people. Together, we achieved great things. The actual award is seeing ISA’s successful, continuing leadership.
What do you think your dad would have said about his award?
Dad would be surprised and impressed at what we have done. He was most famous for getting “contract sanctity” from President Ronald Reagan. After disastrous soybean export embargoes by Nixon and Carter, the U.S. struggled with our reputation as an unreliable supplier. The U.S. State Department was blocking any legislative effort to guarantee our foreign customers that they could rely on the U.S. for their food.
At a press conference, Dad outshouted the reporters, asked the right question, and got President Reagan to say in public that the United States would have contract sanctity for soybean exports. He also urged the American Soybean Association to file a GATT 301 complaint against European oilseed subsidies that led to the Blair House Agreement when we won the case.
What does the ISA legacy mean to you?
When we have been busy doing the daily chores, it is easy for us to forget the miracle of how we all got to this point. Soybean farmers looked at our ag situation after World War II, and the situation was bleak. We had too much production, not enough people to feed, and petroleum-powered tractors replacing oats and hay for horses. The farm economy was in deep trouble. We needed to replace other crops that weren’t needed with something that we could export. If we didn’t find a market, we were permanently condemned to a life of government programs and acreage restrictions and low prices.
Asia had many people who liked soybeans, so we learned how to grow them and sell them. The biggest success in U.S. agriculture during my lifetime is going from almost zero soybean exports to exporting the production from 45 million acres.
There is usually a “connect the dots” story that leads to each element of this success story.
I started going to American Soybean Association (ASA) meetings in the late 70s when they were held in Des Moines. I remember 78 total in attendance at one … that has now become the Commodity Classic. The ASA Resolutions said their goal was “to make soybeans a viable crop alternative.” A few years later, we had a lengthy debate and deleted “alternative” because we felt that soybeans had passed the threshold and become a real crop.
In 1994, I was the only farmer invited to attend both the Democrat and Republican economic study meetings on how to write the Freedom to Farm Bill, courtesy of Harkin and Grassley. They held separate meetings. I didn’t write any of that bill, and the bill wasn’t my idea in the first place, but I had the chance to watch and learn what I needed to know for the next Farm Bill. And I met all of the economists, which was very useful for 2002. In the 2002 Farm Bill, soybeans became a program crop. I did get considerable input on that milestone. Sen. Tom Harkin was the Ag Chairman and also included an Energy Title, including biodiesel, for the 2002 Bill. In 2004, I convinced Sen. Charles Grassley to include the first biodiesel tax incentive into a tax bill.
So there is a connect-the-dots story from “what is a soybean” to soybeans being a major program crop, the largest commodity export for the U.S., and the birth of the biodiesel industry. While I was working on this piece of a very large puzzle, other farmers were working on building the export markets.
What's your message to other soybean farmers who are just getting started with ISA?
Ron: First participate, watch, learn and work on understanding a piece of the puzzle. You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it alone. The future solutions are not always obvious with the first step. Ask questions and share your experiences. Adjust as required. Doing one thing right will lead to other opportunities. Collaborate and celebrate. And then build on that to do more. It will be fun, although not every day. The soy family is a great group of people.
ISA Leadership Awards are presented annually to individuals and organizations in recognition of outstanding work on behalf of Iowa soybean farmers and the farming profession. Highlighted in the March 2021 issue of the Iowa Soybean Review are four families who exemplify the true legacy of leadership within the soybean industry. This story was originally published in the March 2021 issue of the Iowa Soybean Review.