Alta. crop groups look to stem checkoff “slippage”

A new campaign laying out the benefits Alberta farmers get for their checkoff dollars aims to encourage farmer support — but also to ensure grain buyers deduct the checkoff in the first place.

The Alberta Barley Commission, Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission and Alberta Pulse Growers Commission are partnering in a promotion campaign they say will emphasize the “ongoing benefits” barley, pulse and winter wheat growers and their customers realize from the checkoff.

Anyone who buys barley, pulse crops, winter wheat, canola or soft wheat in Alberta is required to have a license, issued by the province’s Agricultural Products Marketing Council.

Licensed buyers must deduct checkoff dollars from their payments to farmers, then submit the funds to the commission for the crop in question.

Farmers may request a refund, but only a “small percentage” do so, the commissions said Wednesday in a release. Rick Istead, executive director of the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, said in an interview that the rate of refund for farmers’ winter wheat checkoff dollars is only around two per cent.

“The vast majority (of farmers) see benefits beyond immediate returns,” Mike Leslie, CEO of the Alberta Barley Commission, said in the groups’ release. “Our goal now is to see more checkoff dollars remitted to continue to expand those returns.”

Checkoff dollars are the main ongoing source of revenue for these commissions, which then use them to leverage government and industry funding, which they said can reach as much as $7.80 for every $1 of checkoff cash.

“Priority areas”

The funding is then put toward projects such as development of new and improved crop varieties, improving and refining agronomic practices and developing new domestic and export markets.

“Government and industry partners are much more likely to support our research, development, and marketing and risk management projects when they see producers investing their checkoff dollars in priority areas,” Sheri Strydhorst, executive director of the Alberta Pulse Growers Commission, said in the groups’ release Wednesday.

The commissions have found, however, that checkoff dollars aren’t always deducted from transactions. The pulse commission estimates that happens less than 10 per cent of the time. The barley and winter wheat commissions, however, estimate almost 50 per cent of last year’s crop transactions were sans checkoff.

The shortfall, the commission managers said in interviews, generally comes from non-food users outside the mainline grain companies — livestock feeders, for example, who aren’t aware the checkoffs are also mandatory on their feed-grade wheat or barley purchases.

The winter wheat commission has seen some “slippage” in the ethanol sector as well, Istead said.

In recent months, the commissions have boosted their checkoff collection efforts. Four or five months ago, Leslie said in an interview, there were 109 reporting organizations remitting checkoff funds to the barley commission — a number he said is now up to around 160.

The barley commission also recently moved to bolster its checkoff support by doubling the checkoff, effective Aug. 1, to $1 per tonne. Alberta’s winter wheat checkoff is also $1 per tonne; its pulse checkoff is one per cent of the value of a pulse crop sale.

The commissions’ joint checkoff campaign will run from August and into the early part of 2010, the groups said Wednesday. The campaign includes ads in each of the commissions’ newsletters and other materials to be distributed at industry events such as trade shows and regional meetings.

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