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He knows beans

Tracy’s Sander Ludeman receives excellence in agriculture award

April 8, 2010
By Jodelle Greiner

TRACY - Sander "Sandy" and Peggy Ludeman attended a reception for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association on Tuesday evening in North Mankato to celebrate Sandy Ludeman receiving the Siehl Prize for Excellence in Agriculture. Ludeman was nominated for the award by Jim Palmer, executive director of MSGA.

Ludeman was one of three recipients of the award announced last month. He was honored in the production category, Don Helgeson of Gold'n Plump in agribusiness and Dr. Ron Phillips, cell biologist at the University of Minnesota, for knowledge.

He will receive the award, a granite and glass sculpture, in an afternoon ceremony May 27 on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus.

Article Photos

Photo by Jodelle Greiner
Sandy Ludeman looks through some soybeans at his farm. He recently won the Siehl Prize for Excellence in Agriculture for his work on the national soybean check-off.

The award caps a lifetime of hard work to promote agriculture, soybeans and the soybean check-off program.

"This award was nice because it goes back and reflects a vision in the late '80s and early '90s that has in reality turned out to be a very good thing," Ludeman said.

Ludeman grew up on the farm he still lives on in rural Tracy, called SanMarBo Farms, where he raises corn, soybeans and hogs with his brother, Brian, and nephew, Ben Ludeman.

About the time Ludeman was earning a bachelor of science degree in ag economics from the University of Minnesota in 1969, the soybean check-off was starting, as well.

"The first state check-off was in Louisiana in 1968; Minnesota was second," Ludeman said. "It was a voluntary self-assessment by farmers (who set aside a certain amount of money from their soybean production). The money was pooled and used to promote research and increase profitability of growing soybeans."

In the late 1970s, Vernon Runholt stepped down from the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council and invited Ludeman, Don Louwagie and Ronald Weidauer to a meeting "to see if one of us would take his place," Ludeman said. The three men all said the others should do it and "Vern said, 'This isn't helping.' He took a straw and broke it up. 'Whoever gets the short straw is the one I'll recommend for my replacement,'" Ludeman recalled him saying. "I wound up with the short straw."

The check-off was a good idea, generating $6 to $8 million a year nationally in the 1980s, Ludeman said, but with each state having its own rules, there was no consistency. Some states, like Illinois and Ohio, didn't even have a check-off. In the states with a check-off, "there was high participation," Ludeman said, however "some states pledged, but due to weather (problems, which affected profit) pulled back," Ludeman said. "It was a constant struggle to keep a budget.

"In the late 1980s, I served on the Blue Ribbon Task Force to see how we could stabilize it and make it fair to all farmers," said Ludeman. "We decided to move toward a national check-off.

"We asked as part of the 1990 farm bill to set up a national check-off; same rate across the country (one half of one percent). Plus all farmers (in all states) would contribute," Ludeman said.

"It was approved by Congress," he said. "Then they had to write the specifics of the law - a marketing order is the terminology. I was instrumental in that. I spent more than 100 days off the farm."

He traveled to the headquarters of the American Soybean Association in St. Louis, to visit Congressman Dan Glickman who authored the bill, and "back and forth to Washington, D.C.," he said. He doesn't have a clue how many miles he logged, because there were times he'd come home "and think we'd have it all worked out," just to get a phone call and be back on a plane again the next day.

"I have a hands-on appreciation for how the bureaucracy works," Ludeman said.

Ludeman was the first chairman of the United Soybean Board, which met for the first time in July 1991.

"We were all appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture - 63 farmers appointed to that first board," Ludeman said.

The members of the USB played the political game, obtaining funding from industry leaders, bean processing plants and seed companies to fly to other soybean states to explain the new program to the farmers, who voted on the delayed referendum in 1994. The time in between congressional approval and the farmers' vote was used "to show what we could do with the money, products and impact we could have on the prices," Ludeman said. "If we were good stewards, hopefully, they would vote yes."

The referendum passed in 1994 by a 52-48 percent vote, Ludeman said.

"Bottom line is it has served the industry well and added profits to the bottom line of farmers," Ludeman said, adding there are roughly 600,000 farmers contributing to the check-off. "Now biodiesel is a reality," he said. "I remember funding the first engine test using biodiesel. Soy ink was just on the horizon in 1989. We continued funding the research and it's the accepted norm."



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