By Michele F. Mihaljevich
ST. LOUIS, Mo. – As the soybean industry – and agriculture in general – deals with export concerns and the impact of COVID-19, officials with the American Soybean Association (ASA) decided the time was right to add an economist to their team. This is the first time in years the organization has had someone in that role.
Scott Gerlt, who grew up on his family’s multi-generation farm near Latham, Mo., began his new job in July.
“ASA has had a need for an on-staff economist for some time, particularly with our crop being in the middle of an international trade war with China, weather disruptions all too common to agriculture and now the ongoing pandemic,” said Wendy Brannen, ASA’s senior director of marketing and communications. “We are very enthusiastic about the level of insight Scott will be able to provide our industry through his analyses as we try to best inform policy decisions.”
For Gerlt, the job is an opportunity to combine his farming background and his interest in economics. “I knew I didn’t want to stay on the farm; I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he explained. “I fell in love with agricultural economics. I deal with all the parts of agriculture I love in this role.”
It’s his job to help ASA be more strategic in what policies it pursues, Gerlt said. “A good chunk of my role is working on policy analysis, policy proposals and policy ideas. I’ll help inform decision makers as they consider what policies they want to go forward with. I’ll provide analysis on how policy affects things. Insight on how different decisions can impact the industry is valuable. It enables them to make strategic decisions.”
Gerlt spent more than 10 years with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute and worked with policymakers in drafting the 2014 and 2018 farm bills. He teaches undergraduate courses at the University of Missouri. He heard about the ASA job from agricultural economists in Washington, D.C.
“Given my background and interests, I thought it would be a good fit,” he stated. “One of the most exciting and challenging things about the job is essentially, it’s a new role. Luckily, I have quite a bit of experience in agricultural policy. The broad objectives (for the job) are clear, but how do we put the pieces into place? It will be trial and error at first.”
Concern over soybean exports to China leads Gerlt’s list of top issues impacting growers. U.S. export numbers to the country have dropped since 2018, when President Donald Trump and Chinese leaders enacted tariffs on products sold to each country. “This has been a major challenge to the industry,” Gerlt stated. “We’re excited to see some purchases (by China) this year, but overall, it’s unlikely they will meet their target (in the phase one trade agreement). ASA has been very involved in this. The association has been working with the USDA and the U.S. trade representative. ASA is there to advocate for U.S. soybean producers.”
COVID-19 has also impacted the industry, he said. The pandemic has caused some ports to shut down and has led to people driving less, both of which have impacted the soybean market. Other issues ASA and Gerlt will be watching include the Renewable Fuel Standard and how it’s being implemented by the U.S. EPA; transportation, especially locks and dams on rivers; and herbicide registrations.
ASA and its affiliated state associations represent more than 300,000 soybean farmers.