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Guest Opinions

Wyoming Crop Improvement Association – Supporting Irrigated Agriculture and a Dry Bean Checkoff

The Wyoming Crop Improvement Association (WCIA) has several objectives listed in their bylaws, but they can be summed up by saying that the WCIA supports Wyoming irrigated agriculture. WCIA does that in many ways. 

In support of the youth of Wyoming, WCIA annually provides up to $3,000 in scholarships to the children of certified seed growers and donates to the Wyoming FFA Foundation. 

WCIA has supported research in both commercial crops and seed crop production. Very few seed crops grown in the state are major crops, so depending on the crop, there is little or no research on pesticides that can be used or agronomic practices. WCIA has provided financial support for research to fill that void, most recently on tall fescue forage and seed production and on dry bean weed control. 

Wyoming has a strong seed industry, and promotion of quality seed helps with not only the marketing of that seed but also educates seed purchasers about the advantages of using quality certified seed. WCIA and the University of Wyoming Seed Certification Service (WSCS) have promoted certified seed use via radio advertisements and personal presentations. They have also partnered with University of Wyoming Extension and supported an educational booth at events such as the Montana Ag Trade Exposition to inform people and promote quality seed. 

WCIA is also actively engaged in legislative activities in Wyoming through its legislative arm, the WCIA Legislative Fund. WCIA worked for several years to get legislative support to relocate the Wyoming State Seed Laboratory from Cheyenne to Powell, where most of the state’s seed industry is located. The benefits of having the lab’s exceptional facilities and staff located where the majority of the state’s seed is produced have exceeded all expectations. 

Finally, but no less importantly, the WCIA membership, which is dominated by Wyoming certified seed producers, acts in an advisory capacity to the University of Wyoming Seed Certification Service to help that program respond to seed industry needs.

WCIA is currently working with legislators, bean producers and bean receivers on the concept of a dry bean checkoff. 

Four years ago, WCIA funded a dry bean chemical incorporation study, as weed control in dry beans continues to be the main challenge for that crop. It proved difficult to get sufficient funding pulled together for a study that would need to be conducted for three years to generate meaningful data that could be published in scientific journals. Those fundraising efforts resulted in discussions last December regarding options to generate funds for future research. 

It was noted that there was a Wyoming dry bean checkoff at one point, and that Colorado, Nebraska and Idaho currently have dry bean checkoffs. Colorado, Nebraska and Idaho use checkoff funds for many things, including research, variety development and consumer promotion and education. 

As stated earlier, securing funding for research on crops  deemed“minor crops” is very difficult. While dry beans are a minor crop according to the USDA and EPA, they are in the top five cash crops in Wyoming. The state typically ranks in the top five states in the U.S. for pinto bean production and in the top eight states for all dry bean production, and the Wyoming Agricultural Statistics Service put the value of the 2012 Wyoming dry bean crop at $37.5 million. A Wyoming dry bean checkoff would support that important production opportunity and hopefully increase income.

After a fair amount of research and writing, we fast forward to April 23, 2014 and the Interim Ag Committee meeting in Worland. Mike Forman, Mike Moore and Keith Kennedy presented a draft bill for consideration by the committee. The draft outlined a system by which the producers and bean purchasers would pay a portion of the final settlement on beans into the fund. The producers would pay 0.34 percent and the purchasers would pay 0.17 percent, for a total of 0.51 percent. Additionally, producers would be able to receive a refund of checkoff dollars upon request. Purchasers could get a refund on beans for which a producer received a refund. 

The dry bean commission would consist of four producers and two handlers and would direct the use of funds. Members would initially be appointed by the Governor but would subsequently be elected by the growers and purchasers. This is key because it puts the people contributing to the fund in charge. 

This concept has worked in other states and is working for the Wyoming Wheat Commission. Thus it is a proven method of directing research dollars to current production problems and opportunities. Based on the last five year’s average production and market price, the checkoff would generate around $150,000 per year.

During the presentation to the Interim Ag Committee in April, support for a dry bean checkoff was questioned. Prior to developing the proposed legislation, direct communication with bean producers and receivers occurred, and there was no stated opposition, which encouraged efforts to date. It still was a valid question, as initial communications on the topic were opportunistic rather than scientific. 

In an effort to better determine support for the concept, WCIA has worked with bean contractors this spring to distribute a grower survey that will determine support for a checkoff. Growers are also encouraged to participate via the internet. The survey and additional information on the proposed checkoff can also be found at wyseedcert.com.

Funding for research dollars at the federal, state and local level is very competitive, and the funding is often for areas with limited applicability to local problems. To put it another way, getting funding for dry bean agronomic research is hard. Research doesn’t happen without funding, so a dry bean checkoff would provide important funding, and with bean growers and buyers making the decisions on where that funding goes, the bean industry can become its own best friend. 

If there are questions about WCIA or the bean checkoff, producers can get answers by calling Mike Moore at 307-754-9815.