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Commission Says Investing In Barley Will Pay Off

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“Australian grain producers, including barley producers, pay their member organization 0.99 per cent of the net farmgate value of their crops.”

Communications advisor to the Alberta Barley Commission

When times are good, you must save. When times are uncertain, you must invest. For the Alberta Barley Commission, there’s no better time to invest in barley than now. This past December, the Commission’s directors and delegates voted – for just the second time in 18 years and without opposition – to increase the checkoff dollars collected by the Commission. Effective Aug. 1, 2009, the rate will be $1/tonne, up from $0.50/tonne.

The Commission’s chairman, Lacombe farmer Terry Young, looks at this increase as “a small price to pay for eventually decreasing the input costs of barley production across the province.” The additional checkoff dollars will give the Commission the ability to invest directly in projects to develop barley varieties and agronomic practices that reduce the amount or improve the efficiency of the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides farmers have to apply to their crops.

At the same time, the Barley Commission will look at ways to increase crop yields and maximize the value its producers and their customers, mainly the livestock industry, get from barley.

“Two cents a bushel isn’t a lot to pay,” says Young. In comparison, Australian grain producers, including barley producers, pay their member organization 0.99 per cent of the net farmgate value of their crops, (The exception is maize (corn), which has a levy of 0.693 per cent).

Other Canadian ag producers also pay checkoff dollars. The Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) collects $3 for every head of cattle sold by a resident of the province. ABP then forwards $1 of that service fee to Canadian Beef Cattle Research, Market Development and Promotion Agency. The Alberta Lamb Producers (ALP) receives $1.50 for every lamb produced in the province. ALP also collects a penny for every pound of wool sold in Alberta.

While some producers may complain an increase in checkoff dollars is just another rising input cost, during a series of regional meetings this past fall the Barley Commission found the members, delegates and directors who attended are committed to advancing the barley industry, both in the short term and the long term.

That industry goes well beyond crop producers. It includes farmers’ customers and their customers. Alberta’s barley producers market the bulk of their crops to feedlots

and maltsters. Ultimately, Alberta barley becomes steak and scotch, and hamburgers and beer (and a variety of other meats, drinks and foods) in Canada, the United States, Japan and a host of other countries. Alberta barley also contributes to many jobs in the value chain: truck drivers, butchers, retailers and restaurateurs.

Commission CEO Mike Leslie says the increase will flow directly back to producers and their customers. “We will increase our investment in new and existing research and marketing projects that help barley farmers do everything from improving their yields to gaining access to new customers and opportunities.

“When farmers can produce more barley for the same or less cost, their customers benefit. For example, with beef prices low, cattle ranchers and feeders are extremely keen on finding new varieties of affordable feed.”

Of course, it takes time and additional dollars to generate new varieties. Leslie estimates the Commission’s additional checkoff dollars will generate at least $1 million for additional plant breeding and agronomic projects. Much of that could be leveraged for even greater benefits; in 2007-2008, every $1 the Commission invested in research projects attracted an additional $7.35 in partner funding (for a leverage ratio of 7.35/1).

But, Leslie adds, research dollars are increasingly hard to secure and decreasingly rapidly. Less than five years ago, the leverage ratio for the Commission’s research funds was about 13/1; the Commission expects its leverage ratio will drop to less than 4/1 in 2008-2009.

The increase in checkoff funds will also give the Commission the ability to act faster on its priorities. “Agriculture is moving so fast that we cannot always wait for other funders to commit to our projects,” Young says. “Nor can we wait three to five years to deal with current priorities. We need funds to deal with today’s problems today.”

Leslie adds the increased funds will make the Commission more responsive to the needs of barley users, customers and, of course, producers. “Producers have told us they want increased yields, increased value and better agronomic practices, but we can’t find the solutions without additional funding,” Leslie says.

Other producer priorities include developing profitable niches, improving barley’s water use/ drought resistance and developing both specialized and multi-purpose varieties. Specifically new varieties could be developed to decrease the use and/or increase the efficiency of fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides and prevent and/or eliminate a number of leaf diseases.

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