Thursday, February 01, 2007

Farmers speak against corn checkoff in State Senate committee meeting

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 9:50 AM CST

Farmers who oppose corn checkoff - in any form - were represented Monday morning at the Statehouse.

Jack Knust, Ivan Hoffman and Steve Bussing spoke before the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. They were joined by Josh Butt and Leland Stevenson who attended the meeting, but did not speak to the legislators. All farm land in Clay County.

The five are fighting an uphill battle. Senate Bill 158 is supported by Indiana Farm Bureau and the Indiana Corn Growers Association. A similar bill in the House, HB 1121, would change the present checkoff from $.005 per bushel to one-half of 1 percent of the value of the corn sold.

“It's time for Indiana farmers to step up to the plate and support the corn checkoff," Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock said recently, as quoted in the Richmond, Ind., Palladium-Item Web site.

State Rep. Phil Pflum (D-Milton), a farmer and chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, supports the bill.

“I've talked to a lot of farmers back home on this. The overwhelming percentage are in support of it,” Pflum is quoted as saying in the Richmond newspaper's Web site.

So, why are these five Clay County farmers opposed to corn checkoff?

The corn checkoff program allows farmers to donate a small amount of the money paid for their corn to research new ways to use and sell corn, such as ethanol production.

“They want to use our money to do research for other industry,” said Butt Monday night following the Clay County Extension Annual Meeting at the fairgrounds.

The Senate bill “provides that 30 percent of the money collected by the corn marketing council from July 1, 2007, to June 30, 2010, must be distributed to the department of agriculture to be used for grants for economic development to businesses that use corn” according to the digest of the introduced bill.

But the corn checkoff costs farmers two ways, said Knust. It takes money from their pockets and gives it to companies doing research to create better corn, but then those companies charge farmers more for the seed developed in part with corn checkoff money.

“I don't think they need corn checkoff money to do research,” Knust said.

The ethanol boom was fueled by high oil prices, not by money supplied by the corn checkoff, Knust said.

Another financial concern is what Josh Butt sees as an unfair burden on Hoosier farmers.

“Indiana would pay more than any other state,” Butt said.

Knust also opposes voluntary corn checkoff because of additional paperwork for those who choose not to participate. If a farmer does not want to participate in the corn checkoff program, he has to file a written request within 60 days to get the amount of the checkoff refunded. SB 158 extends the refund filing deadline to 180 days. During that time, the farmer's money is tied up and not available to the farmer.

“If it was voluntary, you could say, ‘I don't want to participate in it.' But they want you to file for a refund” instead of not paying the corn checkoff at the time of the grain sale.

“I'm not for the corn checkoff - period,” Knust said.

Both sides of the question were represented at the committee hearing. There was no response given those who gave testimony. But Knust thinks his side made their point.

“The committee didn't know there was so much opposition to (the corn checkoff),” he said.

On the Net:

Richmond, Ind., Palladium-Item:

Senate Bill 158: