Checkoff increases top ag law proposals

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The North Dakota Legislature has kicked off with rather quiet action on purely agricultural matters, but with several proposals for commodity checkoff changes.

BISMARCK, N.D. -- The North Dakota Legislature has kicked off with rather quiet action on purely agricultural matters, but with several proposals for commodity checkoff changes.

The North Dakota Wheat Commission is asking to retain a 3-mill portion of its checkoff that would have expired under a "sunset" provision. The checkoff would remain 1.5 cents per bushel, but the 0.3 cent portion that ends July 1 that had gone to help pay for legal action against Canadian imports would be shifted to research.

Barley producers will ask for a change from 1 cent per bushel to 2 cents per bushel.

The North Dakota Oilseed Council, which collects checkoffs on behalf of four commodities, is asking for an increase from the current 3 cents to 4 cents per hundredweight on sunflower and from 2 to 3 cents on flax.

Stan Buxa of Harvey, N.D., a member of the council, says the current checkoff brings in about $400,000 per year and the increase would put the figure at about $100,000 to $180,000. Canola and safflower groups aren't asking for a change.


"The sunflower checkoff hasn't been raised for 10 years, and costs for promotion, research and education -- all activities -- have continued to go up," Buxa says. "We're not earmarking this increase for research, but it's intended to at least maintain the same amount of research, because that is costing more."

Buxa says the increase in research funding helps backfill some of the federal support for research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, especially in supporting equipment for researchers at Fargo.

It is unclear whether there will be significant opposition to the increase proposals.

"The commodity groups have brought these things forward and if their folks are comfortable with it, we're not going to throw up any roadblocks," says Brian Kramer, a North Dakota Farm Bureau lobbyist.

Funding increases

Woody Barth, vice president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, expects tax policies on renewable fuel development to be an issue as the session rolls forward. Some of the money would be used to match federal funds on renewable fuel development.

The North Dakota State University funding requests for research and extension are showing increases, but with much of the increases committed to capital projects for a new greenhouse complex and a livestock research facility at NDSU, Barth says.

The Farmers Union is working to reinstate and beef up other requests, Barth says.


They'll push to fund such things as research on soil salinity, as well as projects to continue to develop alternative feed for livestock using "bioenergy" byproducts. He says even a 10 percent improvement in feed cost savings amounts to a $40 million improvement in the bottom line for state farmers.

"There are needs as well for some capital improvements, some deferred maintenance at extension research stations," Barth says.

Hot-button issues

Also an issue whether to increase to $12 million a cap on an indemnity fund for farmers involved in price-later contracts when the elevator or grain buyer becomes insolvent.

"That is one that is probably going to be a bit contentious," Kramer says.

Opponents think the checkoff currently is biting as much as it should and that farmers know full well that they are unsecured in price-later contracts.

"There was some discussion in our ranks when the bill first came up that (entering unsecured price-later contracts) is a management decision and, as such, why should I pay into an indemnity fund?" Kramer says.

Kramer says there have been no major initiatives on livestock facilities -- no changes in zoning laws or other restrictions or new conditions. Farm Bureau often is out front in trying to keep the state open to livestock expansions of all sizes.


"There was some talk about requiring bonding of some these facilities -- dairy, hog, feedlot -- to carry a bond for cleanups if something goes bankrupt or what have you. We haven't seen anything like that."

Otherwise, soybean and canola groups are looking to propose some kind of corporate tax incentive for crushing and refining biodiesel oil, Kramer says. The idea is that incentives should apply both to a crushing facility and an oil refinery.

Kramer says Farm Bureau also is watching a bill that would prevent the severing of hunting rights from farmland. Farm Bureau will support a bill that would prevent that kind of severing.

On another topic, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson is proposing to remove the requirement that the commissioner have a position on several commodity committees. Kramer had not seen more on a bill that would remove the agriculture department from the state Capitol building, although that was proposed by Johnson before the session.

Dan Wogsland, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Growers, says one hot topic the week of Jan. 14 was a resolution that would put the Legislature on record opposing the removal of the word "navigable" from the federal Clean Water Act. Wogslund says a resolution against the change is expected to be introduced by Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley. If the "navigable" word is removed from Clean Water Act jurisdiction, that means all waters -- "even a pond in your yard" -- would come under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction.

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