A few Minnesota wheat producers don't think the check-off has benefited them. If we really think about it as an investment that we make together, I think most of us would see the check-off as a valuable tool.
For example, Minnesota wheat growers were devastated by wheat scab in the early 1990s and it took a huge financial toll. The 1990s were tough financial times if you were a wheat farmer ... but who really cared? We didn't see the input suppliers, the grain buyers, the millers or the bakers step up to the plate to help us.
No, it was wheat growers who had the most at stake and it had to be us who pushed for a solution. It was because of the check-off that we were able to invest in research and public education that helped get us on the road to finding a solution to scab. It was your check-off that made so many things possible. Without it, who would have stepped to the plate?
The point is we are much better off now because of the scab research and production information that was made possible because of the one cent check-off. What many people don't realize is that private companies have benefited greatly from the public scab research, which is shared freely.
Currently, 71 percent of the wheat varieties grown in Minnesota are public varieties, a much bigger percentage than what some people believe.
I believe most growers want as much competition in the input supply chain as possible. Removing the public breeding programs in spring wheat would reduce the number of suppliers from approximately six to three. It would leave the door wide open for the monopoly we see in other crops.
The Minnesota Wheat Check-off at 1 cent a bushel is the lowest in the country. If growers pass the 2 cents per bushel check-off, it would be slightly less than the average throughout the U.S.
Let's remember those tough scab years in the 90s and make sure we continue to work together to find solutions to the current production problems like Bacterial Leaf Stripe and the ones on the horizon like, Ug99. The cost of research has gone up since the 1 cent check-off was established 30 years ago. We all know what manpower and equipment costs have done since that time. Today, one plot combine costs about $200,000 and full time research technicians are $40,000-$60,000. The proposed check-off increase is needed so the public breeding program can double its capacity to develop better varieties and take on the challenges the privates will not tackle.
The wheat check-off is driven by a common goal of all wheat growers: profitability. On a percentage basis, the one cent check-off at the 1980s prices of $2.50/bushel is the same percentage as a 2 cent check-off at the current $5 per bushel. Both are .4 percent. Actually we should be increasing our investment. All the privates are.
I believe we will all be better off financially if we continue to invest in wheat research and promotion through our own farmer funded check-off. We can't count on private companies alone and we can't do it on our own. We have to do it together.
I invite all wheat growers to come to a Small Grains Update meeting in your area and vote. (Details are at www.smallgrains.org). Also stick around and listen to the presenters. They are all working for you and appreciate all comments.
Thief River Falls
Minnesota Wheat Council board member