In 1973, Billy Smith had a problem with a struggling association that represented the agricultural chemical manufacturers and retailers with operations in Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas.
The group was receiving letters from the IRS about filing its quarterly tax returns late among other problems, and Smith, the president of the group, the Southern Agricultural Chemicals Association, turned to an old friend, Ed Duskin, for help.
Duskin had just retired from the U.S. Army after 22 years of service and was working with his father in his grain processing and trading business in Dawson, Ga., when Smith called and asked if he could look into the situation. That soon led to a new job for Duskin.
“SACA could offer only minimal salary, but that was not important at that time,” Duskin said in his farewell letter to the members of the organization that’s now called the Southern Crop Production Association. “I just was willing to help out a friend and high school classmate who was the Association’s president.”
“The Colonel,” as everyone calls him, traveled to North Carolina and picked up SACA’s books and records, starting a long and eventful career in the crop protection industry that will come to an end with his retirement at the end of January.
Duskin had already had a full military career before he took on the day-to-day role of running a new organization in a relatively new industry that was just beginning to come to grips with a new governmental entity – the Environmental Protection Agency.
Graduated from college early
His educational background was somewhat unusual. He graduated from the Citadel with a bachelor of science degree in business administration at the age of 18. He earned his master’s degree in education at Georgia Southwestern College.
In the Army, he became a combat infantry man and a parachutist after being commissioned a second lieutenant. He served as U.S. Army attache to Laos (three tours during the Vietnam War) and later was a consultant to the Laotian government as a civilian.
He spent 12 years overseas and was twice a member of the Army General Staff at the Pentagon. During his first career, he earned the Army's highest award for Meritorious service, the Distinguished Service Medal, two Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars, Meritorious Service Medal and numerous foreign decorations.
After retiring as a colonel in 1972, he thought he was returning to the family business in his hometown of Dawson, Ga. That’s when Billy Smith called.
“Association work was new to me, but agriculture was not,” he said. “My family had been involved in farming since before the Civil War. FIFRA (The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) had just recently been passed and EPA was expanding its reach.”
With Duskin’s help, SACA became the Southern Crop Protection Association and then the Southern Crop Production Association, growing from the original four to 15 southern states. It has also grown from a handful of company members to include representatives of most of the nation’s farm chemical manufacturers.
SCPA spokesman on regulatory issues
Along the way, Duskin became more and more knowledgeable of the regulations and legislation affecting the crop protection industry, including such laws as the Clean Water Act, the Clean air Act and the Endangered Species Act and became the SCPA’s main spokesman in Washington.
He also recognized the need for more outreach by the industry and conceived and implemented the SCPA Ambassador Speaker Program. He also envisioned the Interregional Coordinating Council, which encompassed the three regional associations – the Mid-America CropLife Association, SCPA and the Western Plant Health Association.
One of the more far-reaching events started by Duskin is the annual trek to Capitol Hill SCPA members make each spring. In recent years, from 30 to 40 association members have traveled to Washington where they are joined my members of CropLife America to discuss crop protection chemical issues with members of the House and Senate and staff from their states.
He was interviewed at the close of SCPA’s 2015 annual meeting where members and friends of the association honored him for his years of service to SCPA and the industry.
“I want to see the association and the industry to go further and be recognized for what it produces and what it gives to our national economy through agriculture,” he said. “If we didn’t have the ag pesticide industry – and I’m still not afraid to call it pesticides – we would be much weaker as a nation.
Medicine for crops
“We are crop protection – it’s not different than medicine that we spend 'gillions' of dollars for – but it’s medicine for crops. And if we can genetically improve the interior workings, so to speak, of a crop to make it disease-resistant or more productive or more drought-resistant that’s the direction we have to go in. The old saying is there’s not any more land.”
Duskin said the efforts to take more of the latter for national parks and wildlife management is likely to continue given the large urban population of the U.S. “People are looking to get out of the cities and go to the woods and lakes, but not to the farm. They don’t understand where most of their food comes from.”
With his latest career winding down, Duskin said he would like to continue to be active in the industry. He has agreed to continue to serve in a consulting role with SCPA for the remainder of 2016 while Jeff Cassady, a former SCPA president who is the new executive vice president, settles into the role.
Duskin says he expects to stay busy working on projects he’s been doing in Dawson.
“I’m an involved person,” he says. “I live in a little town where my family has lived for decades. I’m involved in historic preservation, and Ann is, too. We’re a team working together. We’re involved in economic development, trying to bring industry, tourism and this, that and the other to our town.
“There are many things I’m already involved in that won’t change. And I would like to contribute in some way to this industry without stepping on anyone’s toes. As I said at the close of our meeting, it’s been a great ride, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
For more on the Southern Crop Production Association, visit http://www.southcrop.org/.