CORNING — Ray Gaesser isn’t afraid to be different and take chances.
Gaesser left his boyhood home in Indiana to farm in Iowa — without knowing a soul. He wanted to raise row crops instead of livestock in pastures, which was predominant where he grew up.
When the state’s farmers started planting more corn than soybeans, he fiercely resisted the trend. The rural Corning farmer became a staunch advocate for Iowa’s most popular legume, and joined commodity organizations in the 1980s.
“Soybeans are my first crop and corn is my rotational crop,” Gaesser says with a slight chuckle, though he truly means it. “Soybeans are a very important part of our farm. I represent soybeans so it’s the first thing I mention.”
It’s that passion for soybeans, fellow farmers and advocates say, that makes him more than qualified to be the next president of the American Soybean Association (ASA). Gaesser, currently first vice president, will assume the helm of the organization in December. He’s past president of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA).
Gaesser spent Sunday through Thursday at the ASA board of directors meeting at the Washington Court Hotel in Washington, D.C. He, along with nine other ISA members, discussed soybean policy, topics important to farmers and visited Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and agriculture officials.
Gaesser, 60, farms near Corning with his wife, Elaine, and two grown children. He’s looking forward to the challenge of leading the commodity organization, which is like taking on a second full-time job.
But all the hours working on soybean policy, going on trade mission trips and hosting farm tours is worth it, Gaesser says. He’s served on the ASA board since 2008 and at the state level since 1997.
“I stuck with it because we have a responsibility to give and serve our industry and fellow farmers,” he explains. “Never in my wildest dreams when (I was) younger did I think I would get to do these things and make a difference.”
Make a difference he has.
ASA President Danny Murphy, a soybean farmer from Canton, Miss., says he often relies on Gaesser’s expertise when it comes to agriculture policy, seed traits and other issues. Murphy contends his friend’s insight will serve the organization well.
Murphy pointed to Gaesser’s knowledge about seed traits and the looming expiration on the patent on Roundup Ready soybeans as an example.
“He’s provided real leadership. To have that trait available on a generic basis … is new ground for the ASA,” Murphy says. “Ray is going to do a great job as president.”
Once installed as ASA president, Gaesser said his main goals will be to strengthen relationships between state soybean associations and foster stronger bonds with government agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency.
He’s also going to push for common-sense regulations. Finding innovative ways to grow soybean and profitability are also high on the list.
“We need rules and regulations that are farmer friendly,” Gaesser says. Agriculture has unique needs “whether it’s environmental, exports or technology.”
Iowa leads the nation in soybean production. ISA officials say it’s fitting a farmer from the state will lead the ASA.
Though the appointment will put Iowa in the spotlight, Gaesser says. It will allow him to share the perspective of the state’s farmers and needs. However, that doesn’t mean he will play favorites.
When you’re part of a national organization you need to remember you represent the whole industry,” Gaesser says.
Carol Balvanz, ISA policy director, says Gaesser has represented Iowa farmers well in both Des Moines and in the nation’s capitol for the past eight years. When he takes over as president of the ASA, she’s confident Gaesser will continue his “common sense” approach to farm legislation that Iowa farmers have relied on.
“Ray does a great job of giving straight answers to hard questions and understands the complex history of farm programs. ISA is proud to loan ASA one of our best thinkers and leaders,” Balvanz says.