Investing in the Future of Wyoming’s Dry Bean IndustryWritten by Mike Moore
By Mike Moore, Wyoming Seed Certification Service Manager
The Dry Bean Research Act, which went through the 2015 Legislative Session as Senate File (SF) 4 and is now Enrolled Act 52, is fairly straightforward. First, it creates a dry bean checkoff, which will generate approximately $150,000 per year. Second, it creates a Bean Commission, which will determine the best use of those funds within the parameters dictated by the Act.
Dry bean checkoffs have been doing good things in neighboring states for many years. Between 1989 and 2009, the Colorado dry bean checkoff provided more than $800,000 for research, and Nebraska’s checkoff resulted in $158,008.67 spent on research projects in the 2014-15 fiscal year alone.
The Wyoming checkoff, via a total assessment of 0.51 percent of the final settlement amount, of which 0.34 percent is paid by the grower and 0.17 percent paid by the handler, will generate about $150,000 a year based on an average of the last five year's acres, yields and prices. That means that a modest $3.40 per $1,000 from the growers and $1.70 per $1,000 from the handlers will provide support for research.
The use of checkoff funds will be determined by the second creation of the Act, which is a Bean Commission. The Governor will appoint the initial Commission members, which will consist of four producers and two handlers, with the caveat that at least one producer must come from Platte, Goshen or Laramie County. The makeup of the Commission mirrors the amount contributed to the checkoff, with two-thirds of the money coming from producers who make up two-thirds of the Commission members. As the terms of those initial and subsequent members end, regular elections will be held, with those who contributed funds to the checkoff having voting privileges.
The impetus behind the bill was the lack of funding for research on important agronomic issues, and the Bean Commission will soon have funds to put to work. Issues such as nightshade control, exploring new practices for beans grown under center pivot irrigation and new planting and harvesting techniques are logical places to start. Funding could go toward an exciting opportunity that revolves around recent discussions between Wyoming and the Idaho and Colorado bean breeding programs, resulting in a tentative agreement to cooperate to develop bean varieties for the state. After last fall’s frost, a high yielding, shorter growing season bean sounds like a very good idea.
Checkoff dollars will also provide leverage for even more research dollars, as matching dollars are available from the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. Both of those entities are sources of producer-driven research funds, meaning producers bring an issue to a UW researcher, and they work together to conduct research that addresses a current production problem or explores a new production technique. As you can see, there are some exciting, and definitely worthwhile, opportunities for the Bean Commission to consider.
Even with so much potential for good things to come from checkoff funds, the idea of a checkoff will generate a negative reaction from some people, as they or someone they know has experience with a non-refundable checkoff. The dry bean checkoff is refundable upon request, with the window of the refund opportunity beginning 30 days after settlement and lasting for 90 days. This provides an opportunity for producers to receive a refund should they wish to do so. Handlers can request a refund on settlements for which a grower has received a refund. It should be noted that voting privileges for Bean Commission members are tied to contributions to the checkoff, so those who received a refund will forfeit voting privileges.
There are also some less-obvious benefits to the Act, one being that the Bean Commission can also act on behalf of Wyoming bean producers, something that could very well have helped speed insurance payments after this past fall’s devastating September freeze.
Several times during the fall, and even during the legislative process to establish the checkoff, the question arose as to why the Wyoming dry bean grower group was not speaking up. The answer was that there was no organized grower group in the state. Thanks to the Act, there is one now. Commodity grower groups, such as the Wyoming Wheat Commission or the Wyoming Crop Improvement Association, speaking as one voice can and do make a difference, whether supporting friendly actions or addressing unfriendly ones. They can meet with regional Risk Management Association (RMA) directors to work through issues to speed insurance payments or at the very least gain an understanding of why payments are slow in forthcoming and help producers understand options.
There were quite a few people who took the rollercoaster ride that ended with Governor Matt Mead signing the Dry Bean Research bill this March. Those people saw a need for many things a dry bean checkoff could fund, including work to discover varieties that are developed for Wyoming’s short growing season. The Act will be effective July 1. All beans sold after that date will be assessed the checkoff amount and start investing in a bright future for the Wyoming dry bean industry.